Suicides Claim Too Many in Tennessee; Resources Available Statewide to Help Save Lives

Friday, January 09, 2015 | 02:29pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In 2013, intentional self-harm was the tenth leading cause of death in Tennessee, a ranking that mirrors U.S. and international cause of death rankings.  According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Vital Records office, a total of 1,017 people in Tennessee committed suicide that year. Statistics point out disparities in Tennessee’s diverse population and the need to understand suicide warning signs and the actions required to prevent loss of life.

“Suicide is painful, and the pain of this tragic and preventable cause of death not only has obvious impacts to victims and their families but also to friends, acquaintances and whole communities,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “A suicide can also have impact through the years on family members who never met the victim.”

While the suicides in 2013 reflect an overall rate of 15.7 per 100,000 people in Tennessee, that’s only part of the story. The data show more men than women and more whites than non-whites take their own lives. The most common profile of a person who commits suicide is a white male between 30 and 64 years of age. The data also show the rate of suicides fluctuates each year; the 2013 deaths were up from the 15.1 per 100,000 in 2009.

“Each of us get better at spotting warning signs of suicide;it is preventable and as serious as a heart attack,” said Dreyzehner. “Take the risk factors seriously and ask, very clearly: ‘Are you suicidal?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, get help, offer hope and alternatives, stay with the person and get assistance from family, friends and most importantly, from professional crisis intervention specialists who are available by calling 1-800-273-TALK or 911.”

“We know untreated depression is the primary cause for suicide and that it can be hard to recognize the warning signs that a person may attempt to take his or her own life,” said Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner E. Douglas Varney. “Others may not know how to get help for someone dealing with depression or stress.  It’s important to understand you are not alone; there are many individuals and organizations that can provide direction and assistance for you, a friend or family member.”

Common suicide warning signs include:  feeling hopeless or helpless; being sad or depressed most of the time; experiencing strong anger; talking or writing about death; withdrawing from family and friends; acting impulsively; losing interest in previously enjoyed activities; abusing alcohol and/or drugs; not doing well at work or school; reckless behavior; writing a will; and experiencing a change in eating and/or sleeping habits. is a non-profit organization and website that maintains a list of state and national resources to help those with questions. A list of toll-free telephone numbers for assistance and services in Tennessee may be found at or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE.

Tennessee’s suicide rate of 15.7 in 2013 compares with 12.6 for the United States that same year. Other suicide rates in Tennessee per 100,000 in 2013 were:

30.3 for white males
10.1 for black males
7.1 for white females
1.0 for black females

Suicide rates per 100,000 people for age groups in Tennessee in 2013:

1.9 for 10 to 14 years
9.5 for 15 to 17 years
14.3 for 20 to 24 years
14.5 for 25 to 29 years
19.5 for 30 to 34 years
22.0 for 35 to 44 years
22.6 for 45 to 54 years
22.4 for 55 to 64 years
19.2 for 65 to 74 years
20.6 for 75 to 84 years

“Healthcare professionals and counselors can often find a remedy to help people cope effectively with life’s challenges,” Dreyzehner said. “Sometimes that involves medicine; sometimes it’s conversation. The important thing is to know there are people who care and are able to help.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at