Suicide in the spotlight: One person dies every six hours in our state

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Two well-known celebrities who seemed to be on top of the world with flourishing careers and loving families took their own lives this week.

Fashion designer Kate Spade hanged herself in her Park Avenue home on Tuesday, leaving behind a husband and a teenage daughter. She was 55.

On Friday, chef, storyteller, writer and host of popular travel shows Anthony Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide. He was 61.

"Whenever we have celebrities or figures take their lives by suicide, it reignites this conversation about mental health awareness and suicide awareness and we must strike while the iron is hot," said Lauren Moser Vilar, a social worker and addictions specialist in Wilmington.

Vilar noted that after actor Robin Williams' death in 2014, there was an increase to suicide hotlines to help people.

On Friday, the CDC said suicide rates in the United States have increased 30 percent since 1999.

"We are now seeing a rise in suicide rates among middle-age Americans even though the highest suicide rates continue to be among young adults," Vilar said.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in North Carolina, one person dies every six hours in our state from suicide and suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the state.

In 2017, 1,406 people died in NC from suicide and it is the second-leading cause of death for North Carolinians ages 15-34.

In the Cape Fear Region, New Hanover County has the highest rate of suicide, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services and in 2016, NHC had a suicide rate of 18.5 percent per 100,000 people, higher than all of its peer counties:

  • Bladen - 4
  • Brunswick - 12
  • Columbus - 9
  • Pender - 16

Vilar says there are behavioral and mood changes that family, friends and loved ones can look out for if they suspect someone close to them may harm themselves.

"Those things can include withdrawal from things they love, being around people they love, personality changes, changes in personality, lack in personal care, agitation with day to day activities, and most notably is hopelessness," Vilar said.

Vilar noted there are several triggers that can prompt someone to inflict self-harm.

"This usually happens in times of transition, loss of a loved one, relationship change, a new school, financial difficulties, trouble with your job," Vilar said.

People going through these transitions in life or change in behavior should not be ignored, but embraced, Vilar said.

"It is not a cry for attention," she said. "This person is hurting and we need to surround them with love and support. A lot of people don't want to talk about the tough stuff and sometimes that tough stuff are the conversations we need to have."

If you or someone you know needs help, there are several resources available:

A mobile crisis team serves area counties and can be reached at 1-844-709-4097.

The national suicide prevention hotline phone number is 1-800-273-8255. It is free, confidential and open 24 hours a day.

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