Inside Kentucky Health
Each story is heartbreaking, and every suicide is preventable. Whether it’s a young person who’s been bullied at school, a middle-aged man who believes he’s run out of options, or a young woman who overdoses on heroin, at their funerals, friends and family members are left saddened and wondering what they could have done.
In January, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration laid out a blueprint for reducing the numbers of homicides, suicides, and overdose deaths in the city. Over the last five years , there have been an average of 56 homicides, 86 suicides, and 121 overdose deaths in Metro Louisville per year.
In introducing his plan, “One Love Louisville – Be the One to Make a Difference,” Fischer made it clear the city is putting resources into solving the problem.
“Since the beginning of my administration in 2011, I have been committed to identifying resources to reduce violence in our city, with the ultimate goal of reducing violent deaths caused by homicide, suicide or overdose,” he wrote.
Stephen Ulrich has been on a mission to address the problem of youth suicide since his
son, a Western Kentucky University student-athlete, killed himself in 2002. Ulrich and his wife, Jan, became involved in the Suicide Prevention Consortium Kentucky, which pushed for changes in legislation to require training for school administrators.
Jan Ulrich is the state coordinator for the Department for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Addiction Services, while Stephen Ulrich goes to schools and offers training in QPR, which teaches first responders to “Question, Persuade and Refer” people in crisis. In 2012, Kentucky passed a law requiring all social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, fee-based pastoral counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists to get training in suicide prevention.
“We teach the bare bones – here’s what you do. But then the referred people have to get training,” Stephen Ulrich said, adding that “80 percent of those who attempt suicide are never seen by a medical professional. It’s very difficult to change.”
The “One Love Louisville” report identifies six goals in suicide prevention, including a greater awareness across the city about suicide prevention resources and a reduced stigma towards mental health, depression and suicide.
Stephen Ulrich, who provides training in Jefferson County Public Schools and talks directly with students, said it’s a complicated issue to address. Citing a survey he has given in Kentucky schools, he said that 1 in 10 students has a suicide plan, and half the students who took the survey know someone who has made a suicide attempt.
“Most who died used a gun. If more of them had access to a gun, the number would be through the roof,” he said.
And then there’s the issue of bullying. The news media has focused on several recent cases in which young adults who have been bullied committed suicide, and Ulrich said it’s a major issue. “We’ve got to make these kids more resilient. When I talk to kids, they say ‘I need to talk to somebody’. It’s complicated.”
A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that, among a sample of high school students nationally, 15.8 percent had considered suicide.
While youth suicide is a primary concern for officials, Metro statistics on suicide revealed that the most suicide deaths occurred in white males aged 55-64. The ZIP codes where the most occurred were 40291 (Fern Creek), 40258 (Pleasure Ridge Park) and 40218 (Buechel). Ulrich said people of any age who need mental health treatment often don’t get it, often due to a stigma attached to admitting that they have a problem.
“People who struggle, who say they need help, they won’t talk about it because they can get fired in a heartbeat,” he said.
A major part of the “One Love Louisville” blueprint is to make sure that the city’s primary resource for individuals in crisis is always manned by trained counselors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Hope Now Hotline is operated by Seven Counties Services and is available by calling (502) 589-4313 or toll-free 1-877-589-4259.