In 2016, Tennessee lost to suicide:
› Someone aged 10-18 every week.
› Someone aged 10-24 every four days.
› Someone over age 45 every day.
Data provided by Tennessee’s Suicide Prevention Network
Suicide rates in Tennessee reached a record high in 2016, up slightly from the previous year, and remain above the national average, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health's Office of Health Statistics.
In 2016, there were 1,110 recorded suicide deaths in Tennessee — a 4 percent increase from 1,065 deaths the previous year — meaning, on average, three people in Tennessee died by suicide every day.
While middle-aged white males account for the majority of such deaths, the number of suicides among young people is increasing, a report from Tennessee's Suicide Prevention Network found.
"Recent statistics indicate a growing problem with suicide among adolescents and preteens," Scott Ridgway, executive director of Tennessee's Suicide Prevention Network, said in a statement Monday.
In the statement, Ridgway highlighted the need for more funding devoted to suicide prevention efforts in the state.
Amy Dolinky, East Tennessee regional coordinator for the suicide prevention network, said it's "impossible" to know what's driving the increase, because many potential risk factors — such as depression, anxiety, impulsivity, substance use and barriers to accessing mental health treatment — can contribute to suicide.
"When we look at all the different risk factors, no matter what age group, it always comes down to being really about pain and loss," Dolinky said. "It's really about the individual's perception, which I think is what makes the topic so much more complex."
Higher rates of suicide in rural communities, the opioid epidemic, limited mental health resources and access to more lethal means of suicide, such as firearms, factor into the state's rising rate.
"We know that firearms are the number one method used in Tennessee," she said, adding that more teenage females are using firearms, although their rates remain much lower than teenage males.
Firearms accounted for 677, or 61 percent, of the state's recorded suicide deaths, while 20 percent were due to hangings or suffocations, and 13 percent of the deaths were from poisonings or overdoses.
Some recent studies suggest a possible connection between a national rise in teen suicides and social media use, but the relationship between social media and mental health is unknown.
Dolinky said the suicide prevention network has several initiatives across the region, including gun safety information and emergency department training, but reaching the highest risk group — middle-aged males in small, rural towns — can be challenging.
"Part of it is really just the stigma of talking about suicide, talking about mental health, that plays a huge factor," she said. "We're really trying to get some new targeted information. People want to hear someone who speaks their language."
Tennessee's Suicide Prevention Network plans to release a more detailed status report of suicide in Tennessee in the coming months.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.