INDIANAPOLIS—Suicide among children and youth—particularly among young men—is on the rise in Indiana, according to new findings released at a state commission meeting Wednesday.
Jason Murrey, Indiana’s statewide suicide prevention coordinator, presented the new data to the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana at its meeting, which was held to release the agency’s annual report. The commission is an intergovernmental agency that regularly meets to address obstacles to child safety, the juvenile justice system, mental health and education.
Jason Murrey presents suicide prevention initiatives at Wednesday’s meeting of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. Photo by LaMonte Richardson, TheStatehouseFile.com.
While data collection is still underway, current reporting shows that the number of males ages 15 to 18 who died by suicide increased between 2017 and 2018. Additionally, the number of males ages 19 to 24 who died by suicide saw an increase between 2017 and 2018. The number of females ages 15 to 18 who died by suicide in the same period decreased by one case.
Overall, suicide among youth ages 15 to 18 increased from 45 to 62 cases from 2017 to 2018. In the same period, 67 of Indiana’s 92 counties reported at least one youth suicide — and as more data is collected, those numbers are expected to grow.
Murrey, who works through the Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction, said that services targeting children and youth at risk of dying by suicide have improved, largely through the help of volunteers in grassroots organizations. But he said their network also needs more state funding to support their work.
Indiana isn’t an exception in this case — it is one of 11 states that do not set aside funds for suicide prevention, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control. Murrey said he “would like [Indiana] to be somewhere at the top” in terms of how much money is secured for suicide prevention services like crisis call and text lines.
When pressed by commission members, Murrey explained he would like at least $1.5 million allocated by the state, a total he currently receives from a federal block grant. Ideally, though, Murrey told the commission a $10 million budget would ensure he could grow his team to target children and youth who are at greater risk of dying by suicide.
Murrey noted that Indiana’s children and youth of color – including those who identify as black or Latino — are more likely than others to die by suicide, as indicated by several national and local studies on the subject.
In May, for example, a researcher at Ball State University discovered the number of suicides among male African-Americans increased by 60% between 2001 and 2017. In the same period, the study found, suicides among female African-Americans increased by 182%.
This troubling reality resurfaced as the commission’s conversation around suicide prevention continued.
Rep. Vanessa Summers questioned why there hasn’t been more attention paid to counties with larger non-white populations at the commission meeting Wednesday. Photo by LaMonte Richardson, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Choices Coordinated Care Solutions, an organization that helps to facilitate mental health services in local communities, presented a new plan to the commission to expand its mobile response service, which connects youth and children experiencing a mental health crisis to immediate services like therapy. The organization said it plans to expand the mobile response program to five majority-white, rural counties in Indiana—Boone, Hendricks, Montgomery, Morgan and Putnam.
Commission member Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, questioned why the organization chose to focus on these counties, and why those with large non-white populations were left out.
It’s a decision that Summers said frustrated her because it indicated a “lack of cultural competency” that could exclude communities of color.
“We are part of Indiana. We deal with this problem like everyone else,” Summers said. “My problem is that you didn’t think about us from the beginning.”
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.