Suicides Rates Rise in Tennessee —and Other Unexpected Locations

It’s not something any community wants to see: suicide rates trending up, up, up. But it’s also not something to be ignored, particularly when treatment options like Lakeside Hospital in Memphis are right in our backyard.

Tennessee’s suicide rate is the highest it has been in five years, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Most deaths were white, middle-aged males, The Tennessean reported.1 “The Status of Suicide in Tennessee” report put out by the network said in the past five years there have been 1,017 suicide deaths, or 15.7 per 100,000. That’s higher than the national rate of 13 per 100,000.

While those in middle age long have been at risk for suicide as they struggle with issues related to parenting, caring for their own parents and getting older themselves, when it comes to suicide among youths, it’s usually not who you think.

“The number one young person we are losing is the better-than-average person – the cheerleader, the star football player, the leader in school,” said Clark Flatt, founder of The Jason Foundation, Inc., which is dedicated to preventing teen suicide. The Foundation is named for Flatt’s son, who killed himself in 1997 despite having good grades, excelling in sports, and being active in a youth group, he told The Williamson Herald.2

“Any child who has experienced trauma – whatever it looks like – is at risk,” former child psychologist Marianne Schroer said in the same interview with The Williamson Herald. “As a therapist, I always asked if they had thoughts of harming themselves and if they had a plan.”

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network provides the following warning signs and ways to help a suicidal person3:

Warning Signs

  • Threats of suicide or statements revealing a desire to die
  • Previous suicide attempts or self-harm
  • Depression (crying, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies/activities)
  • Final arrangements (e.g. giving away prized possessions)
  • Drastic changes in personality or behavior

How to Help

  • Keep calm and take it seriously. Do not minimize the threat or assume it is a joke or a way of getting attention. Don’t act overly shocked either.
  • Discuss suicide openly and directly.
  • Listen. Show your support and concern.
  • If possible, remove objects such as guns or pills that could be used to inflict self-harm.
  • Get professional help.

Rural Residents Especially at Risk

Several factors could be contributing to Tennessee’s higher than average suicide rate. For one, suicide in general has shifted to rural areas, according to a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC looked at suicide statistics from 1999 to 2015.

“While suicides in large central metropolitan areas over the 15-year period increased about five percent, from 11 per 100,000 in 1999 to about 11.5 in 2015, suicides in rural areas rose from 15 per 100,000 in 1999 to 22 per 100,000 in 2015, or 32 percent,” reported the Times Free Press of Chattanooga.4

And the report mentions a double whammy – not only is much of Tennessee rural, but it also has been a hotspot for opioid use, as have all the Appalachian states.

“Rural counties also have recovered more slowly from the Great Recession of 2008, the researchers said, noting that the suicide rate seemed to accelerate at that time,” the Times Free Press reported. “Rural areas also have been harder hit by opioid addiction, they said, which has been associated with a higher suicide rate.”

The Good News: Lakeside Hospital

Conveniently located on the quiet outskirts of Memphis, Lakeside Behavioral Health is a 300+-bed psychiatric hospital divided into different units. Treatment is offered for everyone from juveniles to seniors, addressing a variety of mental health issues. Lakeside can help you or your loved one not only deal with suicidal thoughts but also get to the root issues beneath and develop the tools needed to thrive.

Lakeside even offers an Adult Suicide Intervention program designed to reduce the risk of suicide by addressing psychiatric illnesses associated with increased risk of suicidal behaviors — especially mood disorders, addictions and psychological traumas, the hospital reports on its website.5

“After a comprehensive psychiatric, addiction and suicide assessment, patients are assigned to the suicide intervention program under the supervision of an attending psychiatrist, but the total treatment team also includes a psychologist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in trauma and EMDR and a community counselor.”

Lakeside specializes in dual diagnosis recovery, meaning patients dealing with both mental health issues and a co-occurring addiction issue will address both simultaneously.

Getting Young People Involved

For Franklin Police Chief Deb Faulkner, suicide among young people just adds to the sting of the problem. “Suicide crosses the whole spectrum – young, old, men, women, teens and military personnel – but when it’s teens, that really grabs you,” she told the Williamson Herald.

In a Columbia Daily Herald article, a student explained just how difficult it is to deal with a suicidal friend – who really knows what to say?

“There are a lot of people at our school that you can definitely see that are struggling,” Columbia Central sophomore Michaela Gaines told the newspaper. “Me, I don’t really like going up to people, asking them ….”6

She said privately attending the awareness event allowed her to gain information without being obvious about the issue or making others uncomfortable. At the event Gaines attended, Scott Ridgeway, executive director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, said, “There are a lot of other stressors that kids can’t get away from where five, 10 years ago, kids could get away from those things. With social media, you are always in the mix. There is always something going on, and I want to encourage kids that help is out there.”

1. Todd, J. (2015, March 20). Tennessee’s suicide rate is highest in five years. The Tennessean. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
2. Robinson, C. (2016, May 25). Suffering in Silence: Williamson County rates second highest in state in juvenile suicide. Williamson Herald. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
3. Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Warning Signs. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
4. Johnson, S. (2017, March 20). Rural residents increasingly more prone to suicide than those in urban areas. Times Free Press. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
5. Suicide Intervention. Lakeside Behavioral Health System. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
6. Christen, M. (2017, March 2). MCPS holds discussion on suicide at Spring Hill. The Daily Herald. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from
Written by David Heitz


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