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Professionals say McHenry County's suicide rate still too high

Published: Monday, June 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Fourteen minutes.

That’s how often the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say someone in the United States commits suicide.

And like many throughout the country, families in McHenry County often are left with immeasurable grief after loved ones take their own life.

Despite a slew of services designed to curb suicides, the county’s suicide rate remains too high, mental health professionals say.

In 2012, 40 people committed suicide in McHenry County, outpacing the 37 in 2010, when the McHenry County Suicide Prevention Task Force was created.

The task force – made up of mental health care professionals, survivors of suicide and a deputy coroner – is aimed at preventing suicides by promoting education and awareness.

The rate dropped in 2011 with 29 suicides, but this year is on pace to surpass last year’s figure. There have been 13 suicides in the country through May 29, according to the McHenry County Coroner’s Office. There were nine suicides in the county during the same time period in 2012.

The profile of those who take their own lives also is changing. Traditionally, prevention efforts have focused on youths and older adults. But a CDC study found that the suicide rate has risen among middle-aged adults.

Between 1999 and 2010, the study found, the suicide rate in Illinois among those ages 35 to 64 climbed nearly 19 percent. The rate rose from 11 suicides per 100,000 to 12 suicides per 100,000.

The national suicide rate for the same age group rose by 28 percent.

For the most part, McHenry County falls in line with that trend. But the number of young people who choose suicide is no less alarming.

In the past two years, six suicides in McHenry County have been people 21 years old or younger.

“We hadn’t experienced an adolescent or child suicide in a while, so when we have a couple, it really raises a flag for us,” said Despina McBride, clinical manager of the McHenry County Crisis Program and member of the task force.

Rick Kirchoff is the president of the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness. His son, Ryan, committed suicide when he was 18.

“Many parents have no clue what’s going on,” Kirchoff said. “Some of Ryan’s behavior we thought was normal teenage behavior.”

A theory for the increase is that younger children are more impulsive and don’t think about the consequences, McBride said. Others say it’s major hormonal changes in young people’s lives.

“In any family’s growth, that time period between 14 and 18 is a very stressful period with your children as they’re acquiring their own independence and at 18 becoming legal,” Kirchoff said.

All numbers aside, one person who chooses suicide is one person too many, mental health professionals say.

• Northwest Herald reporter Joseph Bustos and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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