In 2015, the latest year for which figures seem to be available, there were 1,604 suicides in Ohio, or 13.5 per thousand in population, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Locally, there were nine suicides in Scioto County that year.
Those numbers might not seem outlandish or extremely high, but Portsmouth’s Matt Eichenlaub says those numbers are still too high. Eichenlaub adds he has been personally affected by suicide, and, even though he does not go into details, says he has been stuck in some pretty dark places himself.
With that in mind, Eichenlaub and several friends last year launched what they hope will be an annual event — the Break the Silence Music Festival, to be held this year Sept. 21-22 at Shrine Park in Olive Hill. Ky., which Eichenlaub says is about an hour from Portsmouth. He adds that many locals made the trip to last year’s festival.
“Break the Silence Music Festival is an event for the benefit of suicide awareness and prevention in the tri-state. Our aim is to bring the cause to the forefront because we all know somebody who has thought about suicide or has gone through with it. While we can’t bring that number down to zero, we can at least reduce the amount of tragedies by bringing awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. With your help, we can make a difference,” reads one post on the Break the Silence Facebook page.
In order to get the main festival moving, Eichenlaub and his partners, Josh Mc Glone, Derek Payne and Alex Altizer, are holding several preliminary fundraisers leading up to the big event in September. The first fundraiser is 7 p.m. Saturday at Frank-N-Steins tavern in Portsmouth. Several local bands will perform, including Ashes Arose, Casualty of Me, and Zero Dark Thirty. Eichenlaub says admission is free, though donations will be accepted. Various raffles are planned, along with one for a customized guitar bearing the Break the Silence logo.
Perhaps not surprisingly, again according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Health, suicide rates are affected by education and income level. The higher the education level and the higher the income level, the fewer suicides are reported. For whatever reason, men are far more likely to attempt or commit suicide than women. In 2015, depending on the age and other demographics, up to 41 percent of suicides involved males. In fact, men 85 and older made up by far the largest number of suicides. However, younger people are hardly immune. Slightly more than 32 percent of suicides in 2015 involved persons between the ages of 25 and 34. About 26 percent involved even younger persons, ages 15 to 24.
Location also seems to influence the suicide rate as well. Again for 2015, the highest Ohio suicide rate by geography occurred in rural Appalachia. Between 2013 and 2015, Scioto County saw a suicide rate of approximately 11.4 to 13.3 per 1,000 people. Homeless persons and current or former military members are two groups with higher-than-normal suicide rates. The most common means of suicide was the use of a firearm. Overall, compared to the other 49 states, Ohio was roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of the number of suicides.
Mental health concerns were common among many suicide decedents. Among the 96 percent of suicide victims with available data on circumstances, more than half (56 percent) had a current mental health problem, 40 percent had been treated previously for mental illness and in 27 percent of cases, the victim was perceived by self or others to be depressed at the time of the self-inflicted injury.
Eichenlaub says he and his partners are in the process of setting up a formal nonprofit organization. For more information on Break the Silence events, go to www.facebook.com/btsmusicfest. Tickets for the September show are $15 for the entire weekend, and will be available during the Frank-N-Steins show.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931