Grim statistics from the Medical Examiner’s office show 13 Blacks among casualties as suicide hotline flooded with calls
EDITOR’S Note: If you are struggling with severe depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, please call the hotline for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
By Erick Johnson
Some 52 people in Cook County have taken their own lives since March, including 13 Blacks, as the coronavirus pandemic left thousands without jobs and many worrying about their future. And since January, 2019, 572 people have lost their lives to suicide according to a Crusader review of data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Last month, 36 people took their lives in Cook County. Twenty Four were white, eight were Black, three were Latino and one whose race wasn’t specified. This month, 16 people died by suicide. In January this year, 36 people took their own lives and in February there were 17 suicides in Cook County.
Meanwhile, suicide hotlines in Cook County and across the country are flooded with callers struggling to cope with isolation, unemployment and rising deaths from the rising pandemic.
According to data from the medical examiner’s office, 37 males and 15 females have killed themselves since March 1. Ten of them were between ages 18 to 35. Another 13 were between ages 36 to 48. About 11 were between ages 49 to 60 and 11 were between ages 61 to 77. Five people over 78 have taken their own lives since March, the data shows.
Of the 52 suicide deaths since March, 16 were from Chicago. Most died by a hanging, gunshot wound, or by leaping from a building, data shows. The rest of the suicides were from outlying suburbs in Cook County.
Suicide affects every race and ethnic group. Of the 52 suicide victims since March, 33 were white. The second highest racial group was Blacks with 13 taking their own lives. Nine of them were male and four were female. Five were from the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing and North Lawndale.
Since January of 2019, 82 Blacks have taken their own lives. About 33 were between the ages of 18 to 33, the highest of five age groups. During that same period, 14 Blacks between ages 36 to 48 died by suicide and 15 victims were between ages 61 to 77.
On December 15, 2019, an eight-year old boy from Chicago Heights hanged himself, according to released data.
Young suicides are increasing in all ethnic groups. Since January, 2019 in Cook County, 165 people between ages 18 to 35 committed suicide. During that same period, there were 26 people under 18 who took their own lives and 103 people between ages 36 to 48 died from suicide, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Counselors say suicide rates in Cook County have been high all year, but there is concern that many more will take their lives during the coronavirus pandemic. They say unemployment, isolation, loneliness and the death of loved ones can lead to severe depression and suicide. There is also concern that domestic and child abuse cases will rise during the state’s stay at home order.
At the Suicide Prevention Service in Batavia, located northwest of Chicago, Natasha Clark said the facility has been getting an average of 250 to 300 calls a week. Clark said 90 percent of those calls are from people who say they are struggling with problems associated with coronavirus.
Clark, who serves as the facility’s director of education services, says the stay at home order has made it difficult to counsel callers over the phone.
“It’s made it harder for us to talk and calm people down. Usually over the phone we would try help people make practical safety plans like getting them to walk to the mailbox or around the block. Right now that’s not possible with the situation that we’re in.
It’s not possible to tell someone to sit in the lobby in their apartment or a restaurant. We had to be creative in handling these calls.”
Ashanti Chimurenga, executive director of Kedvale House Foundation, which focuses on suicide prevention in the Black community, said her organization will host several suicide prevention workshops for teachers and parents this summer.
“We’re focusing on the younger students who are suffering from isolation and depression,” she said. “Teens are missing their peers.”
On April 11, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a new non-crisis, mental health hotline, Call for Calm, an initiative from the Department of Human Services’ Mental Health Division specializing in emotional support for those feeling stress related to COVID-19.
Residents can text the hotline and receive a call from a counselor from a local mental health center who will help them. The line can be reached by texting TALK to 552-020.
“That line definitely helps people with anxieties that can lead to suicidal thoughts,” said Chris Carroll, president and CEO of C4 Community Counseling Center of Chicago. “I think it’s been very helpful.