Why East Texas has a high suicide mortality rate

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Experts revealed data at a recent mental health summit in Tyler that East Texas has some of the highest suicide mortality rates in the state.

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The University of Texas at Tyler School of Medicine partnered with the Andrews Center, a non-profit mental health and disability center, on Tuesday to raise awareness of healthcare needs in the community.

“One significant gap we’ve identified in East Texas health care is the lack of mental health support,” Dr. Brigham Willis, UT Tyler School of Medicine dean, said.

The suicide mortality rates are 30-45% higher in non-metro areas than in metro areas and that percentage is increasing, Texas Health and Human Services said.

The World Health Organization said suicide mortality rate refers to the number of suicide deaths in a year, divided by the population and multiplied by 100,000.

Dr. Cheryl McCullumsmith, the UT Tyler School of Medicine psychiatry and behavior medicine department chair, said on UT Tyler Radio Connects that the rate of suicide is directly related to how rural a county is and how many mental health providers there are in that county.

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“There are many counties without a single psychiatrist in them, in this region,” McCullumsmith said.

The Andrews Center serves the counties of Smith, Henderson, Rains, Van Zandt and Wood. According to the Texas Health and Human Services, the per capita suicide mortality rate in those counties has risen 77% in the last 22 years, which is 31% more than Texas’ increase.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2015, Smith County had 2.8 psychiatrists for every 10,000 children, Henderson had 1.7, Rains had 0, Van Zandt had 0.8 and Wood had 1.2.

In a study conducted by Texas Health and Human Services, they found that Smith County has a 15.8 suicide mortality rate, Henderson a 19.7 rate, Rains an 18, Van Zandt a 19.5 and Wood a 17.9.

“Suicide—and all mental illness—is truly devastating,” Andrews Center CEO Lynn Rutland, said.

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Rutland said on UT Tyler Radio Connects that people need to know that it is OK to ask for help.

Andrews Center provides a crisis hotline at 877-934-2131 that is answered 24/7.

Texas Health and Human Services said suicide prevention starts with recognizing warning signs of suicide which include talking about feeling empty or hopeless, increasing alcohol or drug use and saying goodbye to loved ones. More signs and resources can be found on their website.

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