State's suicide rate remains high


Almost 750 Oregonians died from violence in 2005, with suicide accounting for the majority of those deaths.

State health officials reported Monday that 555 Oregon residents killed themselves in 2005, and 103 died by homicide.

The rest died from police encounters, homicide-suicides, firearm accidents or cases where the exact cause could not be determined, according to the report from the Department of Human Services.

Oregon had slightly fewer suicides than in 2004, but the state still has the 10th-highest suicide rate in the nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I guess we're trending in the right direction, but it's hard to get too excited about a number that is still very high," said Dr. Mel Kohn, state epidemiologist. "We have a serious problem with suicide in Oregon."

The states with higher suicide rates than Oregon are all in the West, except for West Virginia. High rates of gun ownership could be a reason, given that firearms accounted for nearly three-quarters of the suicides in Oregon.

"If someone who's at risk for depression has a gun available, that's not a good combination," Kohn said.

Suicide rates are higher among men and military veterans, and they rise steadily with age. Among Oregonians older than 65, the rate is 78 percent higher than the national average.

The suicide total did not include terminally ill people who ended their lives by a doctor-prescribed drug overdose under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

The report found that male military veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as men of the same age who are not veterans.

Every veteran returning to Oregon from Iraq undergoes a health screening designed to pick up signs of mental illness or vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Ed Van Dyke, Portland manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Van Dyke estimates that 80 percent of veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder have the potential of being volatile to themselves or others.

"That's why it's so important to debrief these soldiers and screen them for possible mental health problems," he said.


Information from: The Oregonian,

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