Alarming Suicide Rate Jolts East Texas ‘Bible Belt' Community Into Action

In the heart of northeast Texas, Tyler's rolling landscape is dotted with churches and historical homes, and the city is known for its roses and flowering gardens. But the community also is shadowed by a grim statistic, one its leaders are striving to better understand and address.Smith County, which encompasses Tyler and is home to more than 225,000 residents, has the highest suicide rate among the state's 25 most populous counties.From 2012 to 2016, there were 17 suicides annually per 100,000 residents, compared with 12.2 suicides statewide during the same five-year stretch, according to the most recent analysis by University of Texas researcher Eileen Nehme. (Nationally, the rate for 2016 was 13.5 suicides per 100,000 residents, or about 44,000 deaths annually.)Another report, also conducted by UT researchers, found the suicide rate for a broader 35-county region of northeast Texas was 43 percent higher than it was statewide in 2014.Local and state leaders pose various theories for the region's greater vulnerability. It suffers from a shortage of mental health services and a higher use of opioids than in other parts of the state. It also has a larger percentage of non-Hispanic white residents than statewide, a demographic whose suicide rates are significantly higher, and an engrained mix of religious beliefs, individualism and a fierce sense of privacy that can inhibit some from seeking treatment for depression and other stressors.  Continue reading...

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