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Addressing Tennessee's 'suicide problem'

7:54 PM, Feb 18, 2013   |    comments
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Country star Mindy McCready's death made national headlines Monday after authorities discovered her body on the front porch of her Arkansas home.

They believe she used a gun to commit suicide.

10News doesn't normally report on suicides for a couple of reasons.

In addition to trying to respect the privacy of grieving families, there's concern that publicizing suicide on television could seem to glorify it for some viewers.

However that sometimes means issues surrounding suicide, like how to prevent it, don't get as much attention as they should.

So Monday we used a suicide that's making national headlines as an opportunity to spark a discussion about what one mental health professional calls a "suicide problem" here in Tennessee.

According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network 938 people in Tennessee ended their own lives in 2011.

Seventy-two of those deaths happened in Knox County.

Tennessee has the 13th highest suicide rate in the nation.

So we turned to Mental Health Association of East Tennessee Executive Director Ben Harrington for insight on why that is, and what we can do about it.

"East Tennessee and Knox County have a problem," says Harrington.

He says factors like poverty, education, and access to guns all contribute to Tennessee's ranking.

But he says the largest risk factor for suicide in any state is depression. Loss of a job, loved one or a relationship can all trigger depression and are risk factors for suicide, according to Harrington.

People should also be on the alert if they see a loved one disengage from activities they once enjoyed.

He says expressing your concern can be powerful and it starts with simple questions like "are you ok?" and "do you feel like you might hurt yourself?"

"That's your opportunity to suggest 'there are places where we can take you, and where we can visit with folks that can try to help you. Will you go with me to get help?' That's probably the most important question," says Harrington.

He says depressed or suicidal people may be hesitant to get help on their own, but having a friend or family member go with them can help.

So where you do turn if you or someone you love is contemplating suicide?

Any of these phone numbers can connect you with help:

Mobile Crisis (18+): 865-539-2409

Mobile Crisis Children and Adolescents: 866-791-9224

Crisis Stabilization Unit: 865-541-6958

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Crisis Services: 855-CRISIS-1

Harrington says one of the hardest parts about this discussion is that nobody wants to have it.

"Talking about suicide makes people uncomfortable," says Harrington.

But he says suicide prevention techniques can be taught.

That's why a community needs to be aware of their problem, says Harrington, so they can learn the signs and what to do next.

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