HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Dec. 13, 2019)—The number of people who die by suicide each year in St. Mary's County seems to be climbing, according to Dr. Meena Brewster, the county's chief health officer, though the increase in suicides matches the growth of the county's population.
Perhaps their greatest concern though, is that the number of visits to the county's sole emergency room for mental health problems is rapidly increasing; mental health problems can lead to suicide, health officials say.
In 2018, according to a report on Maryland vital statistics, 14 people died by suicide in St. Mary's, down slightly from 18 in 2017.
There were just five such deaths in 2016 and 15 in 2015.
Brewster said that with all the resources marshaled in St. Mary's to prevent suicide the numbers were, on average, too high though the suicide rate per 100,000 people was commensurate with Maryland and the nation.
"We are concerned more and more about mental health being a priority need in St. Mary's County," Brewster said. "[Suicide numbers] are too high in St. Mary's County, too high in the state and they're too high in the country."
A state-run crisis lifeline, which can be accessed by dialing 211, operates in St. Mary's County but the main crisis number is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which can be accessed by dialing 1-800-273-8255 or through texting 741741.
Greg Reuss, a county resident and representative of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the vast majority of people who die by suicide suffer from some sort of mental health issue; of those suffering many are afflicted with depression.
Seeking help early was key, he said, to preventing suicide.
"You don't have to wait until you're in crisis," Reuss said.
Any way depressed or suicidal people can be engaged could mean a life saved, Brewster said.
"More time [preventing someone from committing suicide] can stop it," she said.
Aside from engaging a suicidal subject to prevent a tragedy, other means restrictions, such as removing firearms or other weapons from the individual were viable options.
Though more people than ever are visiting the MedStar St. Mary's emergency room for mental health crises, health officials say the increased numbers mean more people are taking mental health more seriously.
The key, Brewster said, was to find more primary health care solutions for residents.
"The good news," Reuss said. "There are more people getting help."