With five months left in the year, suicides in Bibb County have already exceeded the 2018 total.
Coroner Leon Jones said there have been 16 suicides this year, compared to 14 in all of last year. He previously had last year’s number at 15, but one of those was later determined not to be a suicide.
At the current pace, this year’s suicides would exceed the 24 the county had in 2017, which Jones said is the most the county had in his 29 years with the coroner’s office.
It’s a deeply personal subject to Jones, who has lost close friends to suicide, been to the scene of over 1,000 suicides, and even considered it himself.
Many years ago, after failing the state paramedics exam for the fifth time, he said he had thoughts of taking his own life but credited the support of friends with getting him through it. Although he never passed state exam, he went on have a 32-year career as a paramedic.
One of those friends who helped him later committed suicide.
“It’s complete devastation for family and friends,” he said. “You are always wondering if there is anything you could have done.”
Houston County Coroner Danny Galpin said there have been 13 suicides in the county this year, but that’s compared to 27 last year.
Jones said he has no explanation as to why suicides are up this year in Bibb. Ages range from 27 to 70, and causes vary. But he said the most common factor is domestic issues, usually involving relationships falling apart.
The latest suicide happened July 24 when an inmate at Central State Prison killed himself.
According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control in November, the national suicide rate increased 33% from 1999 to 2017. In 1999 there were 10.5 suicides per 100,000 population nationally, while there were 14 per 100,000 in 2017.
Don Tillman, a clinical social worker at Coliseum Medical Center, has counseled suicidal people for many years. He said addiction problems in general are a big factor in suicides and the increase in opioid addiction may play a role in a there being a higher number this year.
“People get despondent and depressed over their chronic use and that can be a contributor,” he said.
He said the most important thing he would like people having suicidal thoughts to know is that they are not alone.
“You are not the first person to experience this,” he said. “A lot of people get to the end of the rope and feel like there’s no answer to get out.”
He said anyone needing help can call Coliseum’s Lifeline around the clock. The number is 478-741-1355 and people are there who can help and connect callers to local resources for further help. For those calling from out of town, the toll-free number is 1-800-542-4221.
Among the common signs of people who may be at risk of suicide are social withdrawal and loss of interest in things that the person once cared about. But often, mental health experts say, there are no signs.
Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about Coroner Leon Jones’ career. Although he had a long career as a paramedic, Jones said he never passed the state paramedics exam.