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Year in Review (No. 9) County suicides on the rise while mental health care lags behind

Cullman Times - 12/23/2017

Dec. 23--Editor's Note

The Cullman Times is counting down to the top local story of 2017.

Number 9: Suicides rise as mental health care facilities close.

A growing number of suicides in Cullman County has become an alarming issue that reflects what many local leaders feel is a failure by the state to restore and increase funding for mental health services.

Most of the suicides have been men, many in the prime of their lives in the 1-36 age group. By the close of the first month of 2017, six people's deaths in Cullman County were ruled suicides.

In 2016, 15 total suicides were recorded, and 13 of those were males, according to Coroner Jeremy Kilpatrick. But 2017 saw the rate nearly double.

Determining what led to the suicides is varied and difficult. Hangings, gunshot wounds and drug overdoses have been the causes of death, but the issues in those people's lives ranged post-traumatic stress disorder to family problems, untreated mental health issues and drugs and alcohol, Kilpatrick said.

Mental Healthcare of Cullman Director Chris Van Dyke also notes that the problems leading to suicide vary, but he is among those who are troubled that the state of Alabama has left only one hospital -- Bryce -- for intensive treatment of mental health patients who are non-criminals.

Finding a bed for intensive, longterm care is frustrating because of the shutdown of hospitals and diminished funding, which leaves people on the streets who need medical attention, Van Dyke said.

This also has put more pressure on law enforcement.

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said officers are increasingly running into situations that are challenging and potentially deadly.

"Some of the people we see need to be in treatment, but there is nowhere to go. This leaves their families stressed and trying to cope and then at times have to call on law enforcement," Culpepper said. "We're learning more about how we should react, but some of these situations wouldn't occur if the state did a better job of funding mental health."

Van Dyke's organization recently merged with Huntsville Mental Health in an effort to gain more access to grants and assistance for Cullman County. But he, along with law enforcement officials such as Culpepper, are encouraging people to lobby lawmakers to look more closely at the funding needs in mental health.


(c)2017 The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.)

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