The Upper Cumberland continues to have the highest suicide rate of any area in the state, an important fact to note as Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month comes to an end.
Michael Anderson is the Regional Director for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. He said with this being a rural area, there have been fewer resources to get mental health help. That contributes to the 40-year run of high suicide rates in the region.
“You can hear it in my voice, I’m a native of the Upper Cumberland,” Anderson said. “But you know, we used to be farmers. We have that culture, we’re country people. Being rural people, culturally, we tend to keep our problems to ourselves. We’re not as frequently, we usually don’t talk about our problems is one of the problems we have in suicide prevention to be honest.”
Anderson said it is often thought teens are the most at risk for suicide, but 45-64-year-old white men are more likely to commit suicide. Middle-aged women are also at a higher risk.
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Anderson said that digging into the trends of suicide can cause analysis paralysis.
“You have to be careful about that information though because mental health and mental illness has no respect of age, race, sex, religion, background, or what you are going to do next Tuesday,” Anderson said. “It is a universal threat.”
Beth Tucker is Clinical Director at Volunteer Behavioral Health. She said another factor in suicide is technology.
“Everything about their life is on social media,” Tucker said. “They are posting things because they want the likes or the retweets. A lot of their identity is wrapped up in what others think of them.”
Tucker said this can lead to a depressive state.
“They start to lose sense of themselves,” Tucker said. “They feel like if other people don’t care about me or don’t think I’m popular then what am I here for.”
Anderson said he agrees social media can make things more complicated, but it is factor that can be controlled.
“I wouldn’t say social media is bad. Technology in and of itself is not bad,” Anderson said. “However, it can complicate things, but we can combat that and we can use social media to put resources like 988 in people’s faces. So for all the things that people might consider bad or a threat on social media that if we make it important enough we can push positive messages.”
Both Anderson and Tucker agree the younger generation has a much better understanding of mental health and can potentially change cultural attitudes in the future.
“For all the criticism that old people and my generation give a lot of these millennials and gen-z, they are emotionally far more mature than my generation ever was,” Anderson said. “So when people look at numbers, and it looks terrible and scary, I will say when we make something important and we start pushing back with positive messaging and resources, it will have an effect.”