Suicide 8th leading cause of death in AZ

Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death in Arizona in 2018, representing 2.4% of all deaths in the state. Mental health experts warn the coronavirus pandemic will only exacerbate the problem.  

Earlier this year, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) Suicide Prevention Team was awarded $800,000 through two Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration grants. The grants provide funds for prevention programs specifically related to the COVID-19 emergency. After identifying an increase in suicide in Pima County during the pandemic, the agency partnered with Pima County Department of Health and EMERGE, a domestic violence service provider. The programs, funded by the grant, prioritized those 25 years or older living in Pima County and who may be at risk of domestic violence. 

 

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Prior to the pandemic, Arizona was ranked 16th in the nation for highest per capita suicides according to 2018 figures from the CDC.

Death by firearm was the most common means of suicide, followed by suffocation, hanging and drug poisoning. Rural areas are hardest hit, with a rate of 32.2 suicides per 100,000. That compares to a rate of 17.2 suicides per 100,000 among their urban peers. Native Americans have the highest rate in Arizona, at 36.5 suicides per 100,000. The white population, by comparison, has a rate or 23.7 suicides per 100,000. The rate of suicide in children doubled between the years 2008 and 2018.

To offset these trends, the AHCCCS developed and shared information on suicide prevention resources and training, including collaborating with the Helios Education Foundation which helps students succeed in secondary education. The AHCCCS also published blogs, worked with the Arizona Department of Education and sought to improve Arizona’s youth resiliency. 

Behavioral health and suicide prevention resources were distributed to the Glendale Elementary, Sunnyside and Baboquivar school districts. Eight best practice suicide prevention training methods were identified and are shared online and free of charge. To date, 6,000 Arizonians have taken the QPR online suicide prevention training program which was provided by Project AWARE funding. 

The agency provided more than 80 community training sessions to 2,500 people — including those in communities of color — on how to detect suicidal behavior. It also worked with the Arizona Coalition of Military Families in an effort to identify vulnerable veterans.

Behavioral health patients can receive services via teleheath, an option which was expanded by AHCCCS in 2019 before the pandemic began, said Heidi Capriotti, AHCCCS public information officer. In response to the social distancing requirements, the AHCCCS temporarily expanded available codes for telephonic services.

In a report released jointly by AHCCCS and ADHS, the agencies urge economic supports for Arizona families to help offset the stress caused by financial distress. Suggestions include increasing awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which 23.3% of eligible Arizonians did not claim in 2016. It also promotes the Arizona Department of Housing’s Weatherization Program which helps improve household energy efficiencies.

This article has been updated for clarification.