Suicide – the talk no one wants to have

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The tragic circumstances of Robin Williams’ death this week have opened the door to a subject rarely talked about on a national or even a personal level – suicide.

While the factors that enter a person’s decision to end his or her own life are complicated and often baffling even to those who loved them most, the statistics associated with suicide should give all of us pause for concern.

In North Carolina and in the United States as a whole, the suicide rate actually has passed the homicide rate. The homicide rate in North Carolina has declined since 1997 from 7.9 murders per 100,000 people on average to 6.3 per 100,000 people statewide in 2011. The rate of suicide, by contrast, has increased from 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 1997 to 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011, the most recent year for which data was available.

In the Twin Counties, homicide remains a larger threat than suicide, and a report from the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics shows the rate of suicide trails the statewide rate.

In Nash County, the suicide rate was 9.1 per 100,000 people in 1997. It increased to 11.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011.

In Edgecombe County, the rate has increased slightly during the past 15 years – from 9.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 1997 to 9.8 suicides per 100,000 people in 2011. However, the Edgecombe County trend saw a jump to 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people between 2002 and 2006.

Those numbers offer a bleak look at one of the grimmest ways to end a life. But they don’t begin to gauge the pain, anguish and guilt that often impact a family dealing with such a loss.

Williams was a gifted comedian and a national treasure. But too many other people wrestling with demons similar to his meet their end in ways that are just as heartbreaking. If Williams’ death does nothing else, perhaps it will open a discussion that has been ignored for too long.