Suicide threats, crisis calls spike amid economy’s decline
Updated: August 27, 2012 6:02AM
PARK RIDGE — The economy has taken its toll on many area residents who have found themselves out of a job, out of money and fearing they may soon be out of a home.
Few have seen this more clearly than Maine Center’s Fran Hook Hume.
Hume, CEO of the Park Ridge-based mental-health organization, said calls to Maine Center’s crisis line are on the rise, as are the number of people requiring hospitalization due to suicidal thoughts and severe depression.
Calls to the 24-hour crisis line, reserved for callers who need immediate intervention because they are contemplating suicide or may be a danger to others, are up 11 percent over last year, Hume said.
“We credit this to the state of the economy, for the most part, and the state of what’s going on in the world and how negative it is for our patients,” she said.
The number of people hospitalized for a mental-health issue is up 100 percent, she added.
“There are so many folks in great need and the numbers are not getting any less — they are getting bigger because the economy is not getting stronger that we can tell,” Hume said. “People’s needs are not going away.”
But in a time of greater need there is also less funding available to help. Maine Center, which serves all of Maine Township, has seen funding from local and state sources decline greatly in recent years. State of Illinois funding has been cut about 30 percent during the past several years, Hume said, while funding from the Maine Township government dropped by 18 percent this year.
The city of Park Ridge, which provided Maine Center with $5,900 during the past fiscal year, has now eliminated funding to the organization. Four years ago the United Way slashed its contribution from $88,000 to $25,000, Hume said.
Half of Maine Center’s funding comes from the state, she added.
“Everybody is getting hit pretty hard because resources are really, really dwindling,” Hume said of social-service agencies.
Knowing that funding for mental-health services is becoming scarcer can also contribute to the anxiety patients of Maine Center feel.
“As people get scared they get depressed, and the more afraid they get — especially people who have mental-health issues — the issues are magnified many times,” Hume said. “They get less-functional and that’s when they call the crisis line.”
Substance-abuse problems can also worsen for those having a hard time coping with a difficult reality.
“Drinking or drugging is a way to mask some of the painful feelings and thoughts of not being able to cope,” Hume said.
Numbers of people experiencing substance abuse have also noticeably increased, she noted.
Maine Center, at 819 Busse Highway, Park Ridge, provides mental-health services, including counseling and psychiatric support. The 24-hour crisis line is staffed by licensed therapists.
Laura Campbell, part-time social worker for the Park Ridge Police Department, also handles calls of citizens in crisis, but she said these are mainly due to an existing mental illness rather than outside factors like economic distress.
“We deal with different situations than Maine Center,” she said, explaining that her clients do not seek out her help on their own. If police are called to intervene in a situation where a resident has threatened suicide, Campbell conducts a follow-up meeting.
She believes the number of people experiencing thoughts of suicide “is probably higher” this year than in the past.
In the Niles, from February 3, 2012 to May 23, 2012, there were no suicides. In that same time frame, there were two suicide attempts and six reports of suicidal subjects, according to figures provided by the village of Niles. In 2011, reports reveal that there were five suicides. In 2010, reports indicate there were three suicides in Niles, with other reports of suicidal attempts and suicidal subjects.
“We’re seeing more and more situations of depression and anxiety as a result of loss of jobs or house foreclosures,” said Seth Knobel, director of the Niles Family Services. “I would not necessarily say suicide itself has increased due to the economy.”
Knobel said that, though the economy and related issues cause depression, many of the people that attempt or have committed suicide have long-standing issues of anxiety and depression.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people coming in for counseling,” said Knobel, adding that on average the center receives about two to three crisis calls each week.
He said the center have a 24-hour hot line, four full-time therapists and six part-time therapists available to come out and evaluate people in need of assistance. The therapists can refer patients to the hospital if they are suicidal.
“I think we’re definitely seeing an increase in people who are affected by the economy,” said Jackie Walker-O’Keefe, director of Family and Senior Services for the village of Morton Grove. “More people are coming in depressed.”
Like Knobel, O’Keefe said she can’t say there is an increase in suicides due to the economy, though.
“Most of the recent suicides or suicide attempts have been by younger adults,” said Walker-O’Keefe, noting she has seen an increase in suicides among those in their late-teens.
Statistics provided by the Park Ridge Police Department for the past decade show the number of suicides and attempted suicides have fluctuated from year to year. But between January and May police investigated six attempted suicides — the same number reported during the entire 12 months of 2011. During the first five months of 2012 there were two suicides reported in the city.
The year with the most suicides in Park Ridge was 2005, when there were six. The greatest number of attempted suicides occurred in 2003, when there were 11, which was one more than in 2002.
Maine Township High School District 207 has also dealt with suicides of a Maine South student and Maine West student during the 2011-12 school year. Joint Community Recovery and Response Team for Maine Township conducted community meetings to help students and families following the deaths.