Appalachia’s rising suicide rate needs to be addressed

Residents of Ohio’s Appalachian counties do not need to be told how challenging the last decade or two has been. For far too many hope is a thing of the past, and the stress has taken a deadly toll.

According to a report released by the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health, the suicide rate in the Buckeye State has increased sharply — by 24 percent from 2008 to 2017. Appalachian counties and their neighboring Rust Belt counties in the north have been hit hardest — in other words, the entire Ohio River Valley.

Orman Hall, the author of the study, told the Columbus Dispatch our region has dealt with economic deprivation and other social roadblocks that have become more entrenched than in other areas of the state.

Further, Michelle Price, program director at the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, said we have been hit by income losses affecting farmers and industrial workers. And that there are fewer mental-health professionals, here, which means those who do decide to seek help have no where to turn.

Organizations that hope to reverse the trend are, of course, working on suicide prevention training and programs for youth and their teachers.

That is fantastic. But that does nothing to address the “economic deprivation.” Doing so — and blasting through the cultural norms that have left so few equipped with the emotional resources to face it — will begin to chip away at both the alarming suicide rate and the substance abuse epidemic in our region.

The crippling of our economy with no plan for a transition or diversification is as much a public health crisis as anything already labeled as such by the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Politicians who feed into the outdated mindsets that cement those social roadblocks are not doing us any favors, either.

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