DR. WOLTZ: THINKING ABOUT THE NUMBERS

I am a doctor. I also have a master’s degree in public health. I don’t brag; it was a requirement for me to be board certified, so I had to. It gave me just enough knowledge to be dangerous when interpreting numbers, which is why I mentioned it.

Today’s article is about the numbers. After a few road fatalities this fall, I thought I’d do an article on road accidents and fatalities, and the numbers are staggering. This is not this article.

I inquired with the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Director of Operations, Tiffany Fridley, was kind enough to send me the last three years of cause of death data. So I started browsing it. 2018 to 2020 have been fairly stable. 2018 had the most deaths with 165, 2019 with 154 and 2020 with 151. Natural deaths (heart disease, cancer and COVID) were the leading causes at ages 66, 66 and 74, years 2018, ’19 and ’20 respectively . Accidental deaths were also fairly stable (these include traffic deaths as well as other types), 61, 62 and 47 respectively. There were other categories which I have not included here.

And then I noticed a category listed by itself. Suicide. 34, 23 and 24. So I dug a little deeper. Suicide is the 10and leading cause of death nationwide. In 2019 (latest data available), suicide accounted for 1.7% of the more than 2.8 million deaths in the United States.

So I made an equation in the county spreadsheet, suicide/total deaths, pretty simple, and pressed return. Suicides accounted for 17% of all Monroe County deaths between 2018 and 2020. That’s not a typo, it’s a 1 followed by a 7, there’s no decimal point in the environment. We have 10 times the expected suicide rate compared to the national rate. And that’s where the numbers stopped. They don’t give me reasons, what people thought, their stories, their medical conditions, their pain and their mental anguish – whatever led them down this path.

I watched Suicide Awareness Month, and it’s not until September, but why wait? I can predict with some certainty that the numbers for 2021 are likely similar, so maybe we can have an impact in 2022. Look online for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) and Awareness Month suicide; there is a short one-page article that provides lots of information and resources: Warning signs and risk factors, how to prepare for a crisis, awareness, facts, etc.

It also provides some additional numbers. Some are statistics, but more importantly there is the National Suicide Hotline number – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – as well as the NAMI text line at 741-741. These may not be the numbers I started with, but they may be the most important ones I’ve found. Save them to your phone and share them with your friends and family. You could have an impact on someone.

Have a great week and be healthier today than yesterday!

The sources used were from the websites of NAMI, the CDC, and the Monroe County Health Department, courtesy of the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office.