PITTSBURG — Each year almost 45,000 Americans commit suicide.

For each suicide, there are 25 attempts — over 1 million people tried to take their own lives. This does not count the number of people who are battling with mental health and are thinking about suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Kansas; suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Kansas, the second leading cause for people aged 15-44, fourth for ages 45-54 and eighth for ages 55-64. Kansas also ranks 15th in the U.S and the rate of suicide is higher than the national rate at 17.92 and 13.42 per 100,000 population, respectively.

Crawford County had six suicide-related deaths recorded in 2016, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Kansas — the last year for which numbers were available.

AFSP Greater Kansas Chapter Chairwoman Barb Mares said the numbers represented may not be as accurate as it could be because not all deaths are recorded the same way. The way non-intentional and intentional self-harm data is collected also varies the number of self-harm related injuries.

According to Crawford County Mental Health Director of Adult Services Lynette Downing it could also be difficult for people to clearly tell whether the incident was accidental or on purpose. Some deaths are marked as “unknown.” Differentiating the motive behind cases — such as drug overdoses — can also be difficult, she said.

Mares said suicide “isn’t quite on the forefront,” of discussion in the legislature, although mental health is just as important as other health issues — such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. ASFP advocates make their presence known in Washington D.C. to ask for funding, policies on reporting and other related matters, Mares said.

“They don’t really fund much, states are cutting it and it’s a major health issue,” Mares said.

“It’s sad that it takes a celebrity to take it to the social media forefront when, besides those two celebrities 865 other people died that week by suicide.”


Suicide, Mares said, is preventable and “education is the key.”

“I feel everyone needs to educated on the warning signs and risk factors and what to do if they are in fear of a loved one that is suffering either from depression or they just have that gut feeling that something isn’t right with themselves or loved one,” she said. “It is the key to preventing suicide.”

According to the AFSP, ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their deaths. The disorders can be treated with biological and psychological treatments which can help address the underlying health issues that put people at risk for suicide.”

Many people, however, refuse to seek treatment or confide in someone. Mares said this is because of fear — fear of losing their jobs or others finding out and deeming them weak or incapable of doing their daily tasks.

“It’s sad that it is such a stigma, it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “But, it’s treatable.”

Mares said it is a myth that bringing up suicide will give someone the idea to take their own life.

“A lot of people believe in the myth that if you bring it up — ‘I’m worried about you, are you thinking about taking your life, or are you suicidal?’ people think that you are instilling that thought into them,” she said. “No, it’s showing them that you are worried about them, it’s okay to tell somebody that.
“That opens up the conversation with that person and they start noticing someone is here for them and begin to feel comfortable with talking with this person because they are noticing ‘something is not right with me.’”

Downing and Mares said there isn’t really a “number one cause of suicide,” instead a variety of things which could be going on in a person’s life, which includes mental health.

Because the battle someone is facing is significant to them, “it’s important to listen to their stories to understand the significant issue that has a lot of meaning for that person,” Downing said.

This starts by talking about suicide prevention, which includes sharing stories of families and friends who lost someone to suicide, stories of people who thought about suicide or have tried to take their lives. It also includes well-trained individuals and professionals to whom people in crisis can confide.

According to Mares, being knowledgeable on what to do can relieve the fear which causes people to shy away from speaking to someone about suicide.

“I feel that it's the fear of not knowing what to do if you approach somebody … if you ask somebody how are you doing and they say, ‘I’m feeling hopeless today and I feel like killing myself,’ people are afraid to get that answer, and they are fearful of it because they don’t know what to do next,” she said. “They don’t know how to react to that, I feel that if they are trained in being there for that person, taking them to get the mental health care that they need.

“Stay with that person, truly listen to that person, don’t try to fix it and don’t tell them you can fix it.”

Being proactive

Mares said the AFSP, in collaboration with other advocates, has a goal to reduce suicide rates by 20 percent by 2025.

Mare’s chapter, Greater Kansas AFSP, have visited Pittsburg for Out of the Darkness Walks in collaboration with Pittsburg State University student group To Write Love on Her Arms to provide education and support for organizations, individuals and families. TWLOHA is an advocacy and support group for people affected by suicide or wish to share prevention information.  

TWLOHA President Shelby Simpson said during Pitt Cares events, parents often visit the group’s booth with their child because it’s a place where students battling anxiety and depression away from home can go.

People can follow the Greater Kansas AFSP chapter’s events by visiting its Facebook page at Greater Kansas American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter. Mare said survivors, families, friends of people who took their life, groups and organizations are free to follow and join in on the conversation and the events.

Crawford County Mental Health is also working toward improving the training for individuals in the mental health field, individuals, businesses and organizations on recognizing a person with mental health issues, Downing said.

One program is called Mental Health First Aid. It is a one day training on suicide prevention.

“You are more likely to run into a suicide crisis before CPR,” Downing said, adding “of course it’s great to know both.”

Downing recently went to another training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training by Living Works, which focused on intervention.

This was unique, she said, because it focused on the people who those with mental health issues would go to in confidence, which could include pastors and friends.

“Most people with suicidal thoughts don’t necessarily go to a health care provider right away,” Downing said.

The program calls the help provided “suicide first-aid” which “is a resource for the whole community” to help people in many settings, according to ASIST.

People and organizations may contact Downing at Crawford County Mental Health Center if they are interested in learning more about participating in these programs.

People interested in taking these workshops may contact Crawford County Mental Health Center or visit its website at http://crawfordmentalhealth.org/

People can also follow CCMHC’s Facebook page at Crawford County Mental Health, where people read information shared by the facility and stay updated on local events.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of our three part series on suicide.)


Warning signs

If a person talks about:
Killing themselves
Feeling hopeless
Having no reason to live
Being a burden to others
Feeling trapped
Unbearable pain

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
Withdrawing from activities
Isolating from family and friends
Sleeping too much or too little
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away prized possessions


People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
Loss of interest
Relief/Sudden Improvement

(Information from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Suicide risk factors

Mental health conditions
Substance use problems
Bipolar disorder
Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
Conduct disorder
Anxiety disorders
Serious physical health conditions including pain
Traumatic brain injury

Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide

Previous suicide attempts
Family history of suicide
Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

(Information from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

What to do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

Do not leave the person alone

Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt

Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273- TALK (8255)

Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

(Information from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Mental Health Resources

Local mental health resources and treatment options:
Crawford County Mental Health
Adult Services
911 E. Centennial

Families and Children Together (FACT)
(Crawford County Mental Health Children’s services)
411 E. Madison
Pittsburg 620-232-3228

Addiction Treatment Center of Southeast Kansas
810 W. Cedar

Crisis Services
620-232-SAVE (7283)
24-hour crisis line

Via Christi Behavioral Health
200 E. Centennial Drive, Ste. 13

Community Health Center of SEK
3011 N. Michigan

National Alliance on Mental Illness
Southeast Kansas Affiliate

Free support meetings:
Second Monday of each month - 6:30 p.m.
Last Thursday of each month - 6:30 p.m.
Presbyterian Church
520 N. Pine, Pittsburg

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.