The Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance) and Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF) have produced “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures, and the Future." (Photo courtesy of Ohio University)
The Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance) and Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF) have produced “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures, and the Future." (Photo courtesy of Ohio University)
As COVID-19 continues to grip the nation and dominate headlines, suicide equally remains an important public health issue in Ohio.

Following the Suicide Prevention Plan for Ohio released by Governor Mike DeWine and numerous state partners, a new collaboration has created an analytical deep dive of data into suicide deaths between 2009-2018.

The Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance) and Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF) have produced “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures, and the Future,” a report comprised of three installments, which provide an overview of state and regional-level suicide data,  as well as data about the impact of and community responses to suicide in the northeast and southwest sectors of the state.

“Too many Ohioans don’t receive the mental health and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and support services they need. That can, and must, be changed if we are going to reduce the devastating impact of suicide across Ohio,” said Joan Englund, executive director of the Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition. “Armed with the detailed data included in our report, local, state and federal policymakers, and other community leaders can take the steps needed to save the lives of Ohioans.” 

Between 2009-2018, a total of 15,563 people died by suicide in Ohio. In 2009, there were 1,341 suicide deaths. By 2018, data shows 1,804 suicide fatalities, a 35 percent increase during the report period. At 79 percent of total reported suicides, males overwhelmingly died more often by suicide than females.

The data — broken down by age over the time frame — also indicated that the highest rate of death by suicide was in adults age 60 and over (3,684), followed by the 50-59 age group at 3,152. Deaths by suicide in children ages 14 and under nearly doubled from 15 in 2009 to 29 in 2018. Of the total deaths by suicide over the 10 years studied, 174 of those deaths were in the 14-and-under age group. The 60 and over age group had the second highest increase (80.9 percent) over the study.

The average annual rate of suicide death per 100,000 population was highest over the 10 years in Meigs County (24.4). Overall, 29 counties had an average annual rate of suicide between 15-25 per 100,000. Holmes County had the lowest rate at 6.85.

In addition to an overview of the state’s data on suicide, the report also breaks down data for counties served by the MHAC in its northeast and southwest Ohio hubs, which include:

• Northeast Ohio Hub: Cuyahoga County, Geauga County, Lake County, Lorain County, Medina County, Portage County and Summit County; and

• Southwest Ohio Hub: Brown County, Butler County, Clermont County, Clinton County, Hamilton County and Warren County.

In comparison to the statewide statistics, the 13 counties that make up the MHAC’s northeast and southwest hubs have similar suicide statistics in terms of gender, age, race, marital status, educational status and mechanism of death.

Within the hubs, a common thread among most counties is the existence of suicide prevention coalitions. These coalitions develop in response to the needs of a given community, with the intention of bringing community stakeholders in suicide prevention together to directly reduce local suicide rates. Members of these coalitions often include the local ADAMHS Board, behavioral health providers, schools, law enforcement, health departments and other prevention organizations. Activities range from collecting suicide death data in order to inform prevention efforts, raising awareness through events such as walks, and providing suicide prevention education through evidence-based programming in local schools and the community.

Rick Hodges, director of The Alliance, said suicide is a public health issue and hopes these collaborative installments would help to inform state- and community-level discussions surrounding how the risk of suicide can be reduced.

“This research provides a voice for the silent tragedy taking place around us,” Hodges said. “It speaks to this disease of despair and calls us to act with empathy and compassion; it shows us how we need to improve opportunities for, and access to, care.”

Hodges also referenced a previous Alliance study that calculated years of life lost due to opioid overdose; the same calculations determined that suicide accounted for 525,190 years of life lost between 2009-2018. 

Additional notable facts in “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures, and the Future” include:

• White Ohioans had an average annual crude suicide rate of 15.1 per 100,000 population, followed by African Americans (7.51), Hispanics (5.95) and other racial groups (5.79).

• Recent projections by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute estimate a 17-percent increase in deaths by suicide in Ohio for every 10-percent increase in the unemployment rate. Ohio’s unemployment rate grew to 16.8 percent in May 2020 (an increase of 12.6 percent since December 2019), creating a potential environment in which suicide deaths could increase across the state.

• Ohioans who were married or never married accounted for the highest total number of suicide deaths but those who were separated or divorced had the highest suicide death rates per 100,000.

• Ohioans with college degrees were less likely to die by suicide than those with high school diplomas or those who had not completed high school.

• Firearms were involved in 51.7 percent of all suicide fatalities.

• Intentional overdose accounted for 11.1 percent of all suicide fatalities.

The study also examined calendar month and day of suicide. August accounted for the highest number of deaths by suicide (1,455), while February had the lowest (1,126). Suicide deaths were more likely to occur on Mondays (16.4 percent) and least likely to occur on Saturdays (12.6 percent).

“Suicides continue to climb in Ohio at an alarming rate and the need for data is crucial for Ohio and its communities to deal with it,” said Tony Coder, executive director for Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “This report is key to helping us understand where our efforts should be to reduce suicides and save lives.”

Ohio is not alone. Across the country, suicide claims the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. In 2017, 47,173 people died by suicide — an average of 129 suicides per day — and accounted for nearly two-and-a-half times more deaths than homicides (19,510).

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in the nation and is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10-34. The National Survey of Drug Use and Mental Health estimated that in 2017, 1.4 million adults made at least one suicide attempt. A 2019 report from the Ohio Youth Behavior Risk Survey showed that 6.8 percent of high school-aged youth reported having made at least one suicide attempt.

Exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Family members, friends and peers of a person who has died by suicide should be evaluated by a mental health professional.

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Are you struggling with suicidal thoughts? Are you worried about a friend or loved one and need support? You are not alone. Your life is worth fighting for.

• Get support by phone by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

• Get support by text by texting 4hope to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

• Get prepared with a safety plan by downloading the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s free My3 app from the Apple Store or Google Play.