With economy's decline, suicide calls for help rise 122%
TAMPA - Anxiety about job loss, missed mortgage payments and plunging home values has more area residents turning to the local suicide crisis hotline. For the year to date, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay reports a 122 percent increase in calls compared to last year from people thinking of ending their life. Of those, 60 percent told counselors they were experiencing economic stress. "Many people are just one paycheck from being homeless," said David Braughton, president and CEO of the organization. In April, crisis center workers handled 122 calls from people thinking of suicide or from those fearing loved ones or friends were close to ending their life. In March, they handled 146 calls. Last year, the agency averaged 50 to 60 suicide calls a month.Those considering suicide or who know of someone who is can reach the Crisis Center at 211 in the Tampa Bay area. Often, a crisis on one front can exacerbate problems on others, Braughton said. Financial strain at work can bleed into home life, stressing relationships with loved ones. Sometimes long-simmering addiction issues can worsen. About 60 percent of those who try to kill themselves are on drugs or drinking when they do. "We find that problems hunt in packs," Braughton said. Suicide rates in Florida have increased the last few years. In 2007, 2,570 Floridians killed themselves, up about 260 from 2005. Hillsborough County, with the state's fourth largest population, had the third highest number of suicides at 171 in 2006. Dade and Broward had more. Pinellas had 163 suicides and Pasco recorded 85 that year. Crisis counselors are concerned about the growing number of callers who report gambling problems, Braughton said. The suicide rate among compulsive gamblers is more than 20 times higher than in the general population, according to the crisis center. Some people facing financial troubles turn to gambling as a possible salvation. Often, the gambling worsens the financial trauma. "They start to feel like it is best for everybody, their family and loved ones, if they take their life," Braughton said. The crisis center offers a workshop to train people how to identify those at risk for suicide and how to steer them to help. Every month, about a dozen people attend the Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Workshop, which costs $15.99. Those who have taken the class include clergy, law enforcement and corporate human resources executives. Even those merely worried about a friend or loved one are encouraged to attend, said Tom Mueller, who runs the program. Gene Cash, a psychologist who serves on the state's Suicide Prevention Coordinating Council, sees a bright side to the increased crisis center calls. "It's good that they are calling the crisis center, rather than jumping off the Skyway bridge."
Reporter Baird Helgeson can be reached at (813) 259-7668.