Dr. Ted Bender, Treehouse CEO

Dr. Ted Bender, Treehouse CEO, talks exclusively with inForney.com about the myths associated with suicide.

Publisher’s Note:

Below is the second installment of our series on suicide. The information provided is the culmination of months long investigation into the increase in suicide deaths in Kaufman County. It is our hope and intent to inform you with the most recent data available and explain how we might be able to reduce the rate of suicide in the future. I have conducted countless hours of research, interviews and data analysis to try and answer two simple questions. 1. What’s causing the rise in suicide deaths? 2. What can we do about it? In part three you will learn more about the resources available to those who need help in our area. In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

KAUFMAN COUNTY, TEXAS — Two more Kaufman county families are suffering tonight as they mourn the loss of their loved ones taken by suicide since this series was first published two weeks ago. Kaufman county recently lost 4 people to suicide in 14 days.

Statistically suicide rates have risen across the country and state, however, Kaufman County’s suicide rate rose 225% from 2017 to 2018. Currently suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in Texas and accounted for 2.5% of all deaths in Kaufman county in 2018.

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can't cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they're important to be aware of and include: Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders, alcohol and other substance use disorders, feelings of hopelessness and impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies. Experts say a history of trauma or abuse, major physical illnesses, previous suicide attempt(s), a family history of suicide and job or financial loss are also risk factors.

A loss of relationship(s), easy access to lethal means, local clusters of suicides, lack of social support and sense of isolation, stigma associated with asking for help and lack of healthcare - especially mental health and substance abuse treatment - are all contributing factors.

According to the American Society of Suicide Prevention, some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. This includes talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves or feeling hopeless or having no reason to live. Expressing that they have the feeling of being trapped or in unbearable pain or about being a burden to others.

Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs or acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly or withdrawing or isolating themselves are all warning signs according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Dr. Ted Bender, CEO at The Treehouse, a 150 residential bed private treatment facility in Scurry, spent several years at Brown University working with the Department of Defense where his research included identifying risk factors for military suicides. While working with veterans at Brown, Dr. Bender observed a tremendous amount of substance use issues and pursued the link between suicide and substance use disorders. Considered a local expert on suicides, Bender says he was not surprised by the increase in ‘suicides in Kaufman county.

“Based on the rising trend of suicides across the country, it is not surprising to see such a jump locally,” Bender tells inForney.com. “Local data indicating that more men over women and that white males over the age of 65 are at highest risk is very similar to national trends.”

Bender says that despite the statistical increase in suicide, awareness and education about the topic is still lagging. Lack of access to mental health resources, public education and lingering stigmas and myths compound the problem he says.

“There are a lot of myths out there about suicide, including that it is contagious, like some kind of virus,” Bender says. “The belief that is the “easy way out” or that you can’t stop or prevent a suicide is just not true.”

Dr. Bender says research has also shown that suicide is not an impulsive act, but the culmination of lots of depression, mental distortions and planning over time.

“They believe very strongly that everyone in their life is better off without them,” Bender said. ”They have spent a lot of time thinking and planning, it is not something they have become comfortable with overnight.”

Most importantly Dr. Bender says that suicide is preventable and while it may be uncomfortable, it is imperative that you reach out to those who may be at risk or showing signs of distress.

“The most important thing you can do is ask someone, ‘Are you okay and have you had any thoughts of harming yourself?’” Bender says.

Bender says starting and continuing the conversation is imperative to reducing the number of suicides locally and beyond.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In our next installment you’ll hear from suicide survivors who recount what it is like to be left behind in the wake of a suicide and how local organizations and officials are working to provide resources, support, education and awareness for suicides in Kaufman County.