Record Number of Suicides in Clark County Last Year - 8 News NOW

Record Number of Suicides in Clark County Last Year

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Throughout the 1990's and through 2000 and 2001, Nevada had a dubious distinction: the highest suicide rate in the United States. Last year, Alaska's rate surpassed Nevada's, but the fact remains that Nevadans kill themselves at nearly twice the national average.

The Centers for Disease Control track the number of deaths by suicide per 100,000 population. Nationally, the rate is 10.7. In Nevada, the rate is 21.3. Clark County's rate is 23.4. And in rural Nevada, the numbers are even higher. For example, to the north and east of Las Vegas -- in Lincoln County -- the suicide rate is 48.63, more than four times the national average.

A common assumption is that Nevada's high rates are linked to the state's legalized gambling -- that people who've "lost everything" then frequently take their own lives. But a university professor says that is generally not the case.

"It (gambling) is a factor, there can be no doubt about it," says Professor Christian Marfels of Canada's Dalhousie University. "But certainly not to the extent that the general population might think."

With assistance from the Clark County Coroner's Office, Marfels spent several months reviewing the records from hundreds of local suicides between 1990 and 1999. "Three percent could be traced to the gambling column," he tells Channel 8 Eyewitness News. "So it would appear that 97 percent were not primarily related to gaming."

Marfels thinks Southern Nevada's explosive growth and its transient population is a key factor. "The vast majority (of people who move here) are people who are attracted by the job opportunities...people who didn't make it elsewhere. You know, who are out of work. ...And they come (to Las Vegas) and perhaps don't make it here. It doesn't work out.. ...And their mindset is...'Goodness, if I don't make it in Las Vegas, where else (can I go)?' "

The researcher's thoughts are echoed by Linda Flatt. The Henderson woman organized a support group for survivors of suicide after her 25-year-old son, Paul, took his life ten years ago.

"People come here with expectations of fame and fortune and what-have-you. And when those expectations are not met, they have no support," Flatt explains. "They become depressed and suicidal."

Flatt has learned a great deal about suicide since her son's death. "I had a major warning sign in Paul's situation. Paul threatened to take his life about six months before died. And I had the misconception at that time that when people talk about suicide, they're not serious."

Linda Flatt says education is the key, but that -- as a state -- Nevada has little in the way of suicide prevention services. So, on March 7th, she will appear before legislators in Carson City to urge them to appropriate funding for such services.

"States with more suicide (prevention) programs available have lower suicide rates," she says. "We don't have to be professionals with little letters after our names to prevent this. I firmly believe that. I believe it's a matter of taking in a little bit of information. Knowing what to look for...knowing what to say to someone and then knowing what to do."

Nevada teenagers also kill themselves at a much-higher-than-average rate. Now, a new pilot program called 'Teen Screen' is attempting to address the problem in a few Clark County high schools.

"The most effective way of preventing suicide is through screening, early intervention," says Amy Courrier, the coordinator of 'Teen Screen.' "Statistics show on average that 90 percent of teens that commit suicide suffer from some type of mental illness. Yet two out of three teens who do have some type of mental illness do not receive treatment for it."

Using discussions and testing, 'Teen Screen' identifies young people who may be suffering from depression or another mental illness. Professional treatment is provided free-of-charge to all who need it.

"Suicide is definitely a thing that needs to be educated in the school," says Gail Presley of Las Vegas. Her 16-year-old son, Levi, killed himself last July.

"There had to be something that he wasn't discussing with anyone or he kept inside his own self," she observes. "He must have been in a lot of pain, not being able to talk to anyone."

And Presley adds this advice: "You got to remember you're not just doing this to yourself. You're doing it to the others that love you. ...It's too late to say, 'I made a mistake. I want to come home.' "

Immediate assistance is available from trained staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling toll-free: 1-800-SUICIDE.

For more information about "Teen Screen," contact Amy Courrier in Las Vegas at (702) 383-6012. To expand its outreach to valley youth, the program greatly needs used laptop computers that people are willing to donate. Interested donors can call Amy at the number above.

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