JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the suicide rate among young people between the ages of 10 and 17 increased 70 percent from 2006 to 2016.
“In all my years of community mental health, I’ve never once been afraid to open my email in the morning,” Tim DeWeese said. “Today I’m afraid to open my email to see that someone else has committed suicide or that there’s been another homicide or there’s been another shooting."
For more than 20 years, DeWeese has been with Johnson County Mental Health, and has seen vast changes from the time he’s started.
“It seems like we can’t go a week or a couple days without seeing something, so that’s the hardest part,” DeWeese said.
CDC data also showed while black youth killed themselves less than white youth, the increase rate was higher, 77 percent within that decade.
In Kansas alone, the suicide rate is higher than the national average, with Johnson County being number one in the state.
“More than one Kansan dies everyday from suicide,” DeWeese said.
DeWeese said there could be a number of contributing factors.
“Lack of availability of mental health resources,” DeWeese said. “Our country, our state, has not necessarily put an emphasis on funding mental health treatment.”
He said the stigma surrounding mental health could also be playing a role..
“When we see these mass shootings occur or anything bad happen, immediately that person says that person has a mental illness,” DeWeese said.
He said this does nothing but further stigmatize a mental illness.
“And it really promotes people not to seek treatment,” DeWeese said.
John County Mental Health recently started providing free gun locks at the center.
“If you can create a barrier such as a gun lock, then — if actually in those two minutes it would take to unlock the gun or to find the key — then a person may rethink that decision,” DeWeese said.
He said he encourages anyone who may know someone who is struggling not be afraid to ask them how they’re feeling, if they feel like harming themselves, and to listen.