JoNel AlecciaHealth writerEmail
Coroner John White is presiding over a sad tally in this northern Indiana county, tracking rising numbers of suicides he believes are linked to the lingering recession.
Rumors of an economic recovery may be whispered elsewhere, but here, where the downturn remains entrenched, 22 people have killed themselves this year, and two more cases were likely suicides, outpacing the county’s annual average of 16 self-inflicted deaths.
In more than a quarter of the cases, White said, distress caused by job loss or financial failure was cited as the last straw.
“We have a real problem,” said White. “They left notes specifically stating that the reason they did this was because of the economy.”
Debra K. Gibbs, a 54-year-old homemaker in Goshen, in Elkhart County, didn’t leave a note. Instead, she simply sent her worried daughter out for soda pop on a summer morning — and then shot herself in the head.
Despondent over a pending home foreclosure and mounting bills, Gibbs took her life on June 23, the day after crews came to repossess her 2007 Chevy Malibu, the last purchase she’d made together with her late husband, Sam.
“She was doing everything she could to hold onto what was hers,” said Gibbs’ daughter, Rebecca Filley, 30, of Cassopolis, Mich. “This was a vivacious, very strong woman, and she was taken to her knees because of money.”
Spikes in Elkhart and elsewhere
The rise in suicides is alarming not only in Elkhart, which has been in recession since December 2006, but also in other regions of the country that also entered the downturn early, making this county of less than 200,000 a potential harbinger of similar deadly increases.
Federal figures on suicides during the current recession won’t be available for at least two years because of a lag in the way the deaths are collected and reported.
And, historically, only a slump of the magnitude of the Great Depression has had any overall effect on the nation’s suicide rates, which hovered in 2006 at 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people, totaling about 33,300 people a year, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
But in some U.S. communities that went into recession as early as 2005 or 2006, the ongoing crisis has been accompanied by a worrisome rise in suicide deaths. These spikes in suicides are especially notable because in most of the places hardest-hit by the recession, populations either held steady or dropped, census figures show.
“Everyone needs to be more aware with the stresses of 17 percent to 18 percent unemployment,” noted White, the Elkhart coroner. “Everyone really needs to be aware of what’s going on.”
Suicide experts say the reasons for taking one’s own life are complicated, and can’t be attributed to a single factor.
While there hasn’t been a link between suicide rates and recent national recessions, which are declared based on many factors, there is a link with circumstances that come along with a recession, such as unemployment and home foreclosure, said John L. McIntosh, a professor of psychology at Indiana University at South Bend who researches suicide trends. Individually, people who’ve lost jobs commit suicide at rates two times to four times as high as those who are employed, the suicide association notes.
Medical and law enforcement officials who’ve watched the rise of suicides in their own communities say they can’t help but see a link with the downturn. “We’ve had many situations where people lost their jobs and that was the reason for why they do what they do,” said Sheriff Mark A. Hackel of Macomb County, Mich.
In that county of about 830,000, 81 people on average committed suicide each year between 1979 and 2006, records from the federal Centers for Disease Control show. But the figure jumped to 104 in 2008 and to 178 in the first seven months of 2009, a rise that has left Hackel’s deputies scrambling to respond to near-daily calls about suicide attempts.
In a county where unemployment still tops 18 percent, nearly twice the national rate, Hackel said he expects the trend to continue.
“I try to be hopeful, but I have a feeling we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time,” Hackel said.
Data on every U.S. county
You can see the suicide rate for U.S. counties for 1979-2006 in these PDF files:
Foreclosure notice triggers tragedy
In Columbiana County, Ohio, a rural community of about 108,000, the number of suicides has averaged 12 a year since 1979, according to the CDC. Suicides jumped to 14 in 2007 and to 21 in 2008. By June, there already had been 11 suicides in 2009, a spokesman for the coroner’s office said.
family photograph/courtesy of Sherrie Blum
Betty J. Lipply of East Palestine, Ohio, celebrated the preschool graduation of her great-granddaughter, Angel Munzek, 4, in 2007. Lipply, 72, hanged herself in January 2009 after learning she would lose her family home to foreclosure.
That tally included Betty J. Lipply, 72, of East Palestine, Ohio, who died Jan. 24, within days of receiving a foreclosure notice on the house her husband had built himself for their retirement. A family lawyer said she used an electrical cord to hang herself from a support beam in the garage.
“She just had to have been so depressed that no one knew just how severe it was,” said Lipply’s daughter, Sherrie Blum, 52, of nearby Darlington, Pa. “This was not my mom. Her family was her life.”
Robert B. Holman, the lawyer, said Lipply and her husband, Robert Lipply, also 72, were victims of a predatory lending scheme that used an inflated appraisal to authorize a home loan that the Lipplys could not repay. Holman filed a lawsuit on the couple’s behalf, but said the action is languishing in county court.
Blum blames the finance officials who approved the loan for her parents’ financial situation — and for her mother’s death.
“It’s been very hard on me. I’ve lost my best friend,” she said. “It upsets me, the fact that people do this to the elderly and then just take total advantage of them.”
Another Michigan community, Kent County, with a population of about 605,000, went into recession in September 2006. The county posts an average of about 47 suicides per year. But in 2008, there were 66 suicides, and in the first seven months of 2009 alone, there already had been 41 suicides, records showed.
Since then, it’s continued to go higher, reported Dr. Stephen D. Cohle, a forensic pathologist and the county’s chief medical examiner, rising to 57 suicides by the end of September, when the jobless rate was nearly 12 percent. In at least seven of the cases, there was some indication that the deaths were related to unemployment or financial trouble.
“It’s going up, and it does certainly correlate with the bad economy,” Cohle said.
They included an unemployed 52-year-old Sparta, Mich., man who hanged himself on New Year’s Day because he was “despondent over financial stress,” according to a case report. A 45-year-old Grand Rapids man shot himself in June after telling family members he was overwhelmed with credit card debt. And a 31-year-old Kentwood, Mich., man hanged himself in August in the wake of a home foreclosure and looming bills.
Economy only one factor
In many of those cases, however, the people who died by suicide suffered from depression and other emotional ills in addition to having financial problems, Cohle noted.
That’s an important point emphasized by suicide experts, who say it’s too easy to blame a slumping economy for the rise in deaths. McIntosh, the psychology professor at Indiana University at South Bend, says economic pressures simply increase the pool of people vulnerable to suicide.
“There are more of them that are closer to the edge,” he said.
Typically, a combination of conditions and events — depression combined with difficult personal relationships combined with a job loss, for instance — is what drives people to take their own lives.
“It’s an accumulative effect,” said Cathy Blum, a counselor in Elkhart who often works with people at risk for suicide and with the families of victims. “It’s like you have a glass of water and you’re dripping drops of water into and then it spills over. Perhaps unemployment is the final drop.”
While the impact of economy-related suicide on victims and their families is profound, detecting the effects on the larger society is difficult. An msnbc.com analysis of suicide data and economic data in U.S. metropolitan areas between 1994 and 2005, the period for which records were available for both economic factors and suicides, found no correlation between recent economic downturns and self-inflicted death.
That’s a conclusion shared by experts, including the American Association of Suicidology. Suicide rates did increase during the Great Depression, rising to a rate of 17.4 suicides per 100,000 people, but subsequent recessions have shown no clear association.
Could this recession be different?
But this recession could change that, McIntosh said. The depth and the breadth of the current downturn might be strong enough to nudge the national figures above the 2006 figure of 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people, he suggested.
“My guess is that it will be 12 or 13 by the time we’re done,” he said. “If it went up 1 per 100,000 or even 2, that would be a significant change.”
Worries about a national rise in suicide are shared by government officials who’ve been tracking suicidal tendencies — and trying to prevent deaths. A sharp rise in calls to suicide hotlines this year — from about 39,000 calls in January to 57,000 calls in July — prompted an infusion of more than $1 million in additional money to fund up to 20 crisis centers facing the biggest upticks.
About 30 percent of the increased calls were related to economic problems, noted Richard McKeon, the lead adviser for suicide prevention for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which helps pay for prevention.
“Our best assessment is that there is a relationship between economic distress and suicide, but it’s a complex relationship, not one that we would over-simplify,” McKeon said.
Preventing economy-related suicides requires the same skills and services as other suicide interventions, including 24-hour crisis lines, access to mental health counselors and to treatment programs to help with the drug and alcohol problems that often lead to suicide attempts.
‘What else can we be doing?’
But in an economic crisis, cities, counties and state programs that provided such help are cutting back, McIntosh said.
“I worry that people are trying to find places to cut their budgets,” he said. “There’s a great concern that we’re lowering our resources at the time we really need it.”
That’s a worry in Elkhart County, where the most recent suicide on Oct. 3 brought the likely tally to 24, which ties the region’s record for suicide deaths in a single year. The record year was 2007, after Elkhart first dipped into recession.
Crisis calls in the county are routed to a statewide hotline, because there isn’t enough money to staff a local line, noted Jim Smith, who coordinates a local suicide prevention coalition. People who’ve lost their jobs have usually lost health insurance, too, including coverage for mental health care.
Smith retains a list of counselors who’ll see suicidal people quickly and, sometimes, without charge. Members of his group speak out in public, hoping to reduce the stigma of suicide and to increase awareness of the warning signs. But he acknowledges it’s an uphill battle.
“We sit around and constantly ask: ‘What else can we be doing?’”
No bailout for suicide victims
People who’ve lost family members to suicides say what would have been most welcome is some last-ditch compassion from financial lenders.
Rebecca Filley says her Elkhart County family is still reeling after the loss of her mother, Debra Gibbs. She acknowledged that her mother hid her financial problems in an effort not to burden family members and then failed to address the desperate situation until it was far too late.
But in a country where big-name financial firms received government bailouts when they were in trouble, Filley said she can’t understand why there wasn’t more help for her mom.
“You’re talking about people who don’t have anything left and they’re taking away what little they have,” she said.
For Sherrie Blum, who is dreading her first Thanksgiving without her mother, the loss is particularly difficult when she hears people talking about economic recovery.
“I feel better as far as the people that have survived this and are able to go on,” she said. “But it don’t change for all the people that this has happened to. It’s not over for us.”
Msnbc.com investigative reporter Bill Dedman contributed to this report.”
The Fall of America
Men’s Hearts Failing: Fear
1 How true the prophecy of Jesus, Lu. 21:25-26 concerning the present time. We bear witness that the sea and waves are roaring and that fear is now covering the nations as shown by the unusual heart failure that is now occurring among men. These are signs of the end of the present world.
2 The sea and ocean are heaving up tidal waves to un-imaginable heights that man has never witnessed before on earth. This is another plague that is upon the wicked.
3 Since the Holy Qur’an teaches that the judgment would be such that the earth itself would act as though a revelation had been revealed to it because of its perfect obedience to the Law of Allah on that Day.
4 Allah will use the power that is in the earth and in the sea against the world of evil. The white race think that they have control of the power of the earth, sea and air.
5 It was prophesied that for a time they would subdue and have the use of the power of the sea and ocean until He Comes Whose right it is to rule.
6 The heavens and the earth belong to Allah (God). Now it is His time to rule.
7 There is much prophecy concerning the terribleness of the judgment of the wicked.
8 The power that is in the water is in the Hand of Allah (God) to use it against whom He pleases. The earth, wind, rain, snow and ice and earthquakes are controlled by Allah (God).
9 It is a fearful sight to see the Display of His Power with the forces of nature bowing and submitting to His Will. I should warn you that this is now coming into action against the Western world. There will be the destruction of whole fleets at sea. Those which are capable of lying on the ocean and sea bottom will be destroyed.
10 The die is set, with a foolish people, who like, in the time of Noah, could not see the sign of the rain, bringing on the Flood even after the clouds began to darken the sky. They did not see the on-coming rain until it actually started to rain.
11 So it is with America. They pay no attention to the signs of the judgment that is now taking place. As the Bible prophesied in Rev. 16:9, they…”blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues…”. How many in America and the city of Chicago disbelieve and even mock and swear at the Name of Allah, Who has power over the forces of nature on land, sea, and air.
12 Allah (God) is now doing as it is prophesied: Holy Qur’an, Chap. 13:41, “…visiting the land, curtailing it of its sides.” The foolish still are foolish until he is cast into a narrow place and cannot turn to the right or left, as it was with the donkey that Baalam was riding. He came to a narrow place between two walls. He could not turn around. He had to stop face to face with the angel or be destroyed. Bible Nu. 22:23-26.
13 Let it be remembered that Allah (God) came forth for the Redemption (to Deliver) the American Black People from their tormentors. Whether we like it or not, He Will Do This. This is the work of Allah (God) which is in effect.
14 Let America use the history of the fall and destruction of ancient Egypt and her Pharaohs. Let their histories serve as a warning. They all were brought to naught for their evil done to a people whom Allah (God) has chosen for an example of these last days…the lost-found Black slaves and their slave masters.
15 The Holy Qur’an, Chap. 30:41, is perfectly true in its prediction of a present day nation’s sea and land power. “Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of that which men’s hands have wrought.”
16 The most grave mistake that the Black Man is making today is his trying to hold on to the belief in the return of Jesus or that he lived and preached the saving of the white man’s world. This is false. Jesus did not preach this. See Bible, Jn. 17:9. Jesus had a few disciples. Jesus also cursed the Jews, not to mention that he was trying to save them…or the Caucasian people.
17 They are teaching a tricknology that the white man uses to deceive the Black Man. They do this so that our people will not understand that Jesus declared himself against the world of the Caucasian race, Bible Jn. 8:44. He also declared that the word of truth had no place in this white race of people. They have proved this to be the truth by their mistreatment of you and me.
18 The white race has never worshipped any prophet, before or after Jesus as a Divine Man of Allah (God). It is against their very nature to do this. That is why they kill all of the prophets they are able to kill. They deceive the people against believing in the prophets of Allah (God), for they were made in their nature to be the enemy of God and His Representatives.
19 Before the time is out, they will be forced into submission to the will of Allah (God). This will not be done for the purpose of converting the white race Allah (God) will force them into submission to prove that He is able to make everything bow to Him in submission.
20 This is in fulfillment to the prophecy, Bible Is. 45-23, “…unto me every knee shall bow; every tongue shall swear..” The Bible says, Mt. 25:32, “And before Him shall be gathered all nations:…” The Holy Qur’an has a similar prophecy, “that you shall see all nations kneeling before Him.”
21 This includes everybody, regardless to their color. Everything in the universe obeys the natural law in which it was made subject to by Allah (God).
22 On the coming of Allah (God) He now makes everything bow to Him, whether you believe or disbelieve. Holy Qur’an 3:82. It does not make a difference to Him whether you are the devil or the righteous…all must bow in submission to the will of Allah (God), on the judgement day. We are now living in the days of judgment.
23 Black Preachers, you will waste your time in leading yourself and those who follow you to hell by holding onto Christianity. Rev. 19:20. You cannot keep them in Christianity.
24 Christianity was not the religion of Jesus, Moses or any of the prophets who came before them.
25 It would have been a farce on the part of Allah (God) to have waited until just 2,000 years ago to give the right religion to the world of man.
26 Allah (God) gave man the right religion, Islam, in the beginning of His creation of the heavens and the Earth. Allah (God) has not changed. His religion is Islam, entire Submission to His Will.”