AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Nationwide, Suicide rates are on the rise and the Texas Panhandle is no exception. Local experts believe the accessibility of guns to someone with mental health problems is a growing concern.
The Centers for Disease Control reports over the last 15 years, suicides have increased 24 percent. The nation's suicide rate is the highest it's been since 1986. Nearly 43,000 people committed suicide in 2014.
According to the Amarillo Police Department, in 2015 there were 421 reported suicidal subjects - defined as those who committed or at least attempted the act - and already 127 for 2016.
Throughout the country, these rates are the highest among young girls and middle-aged men. That trend is seen locally as well.
"Typically our statistics tend to run demographically about the same as the rest of the state and country," Amy Hord, Instructor of Social Work at West Texas A&M, said. "One thing that's concerning is the number of domestics homicide suicides. When we look at those we really have to channel back and look at what that root cause looks like so we can provide intervention earlier on."
In Amarillo alone, there were two domestic violence homicide suicides in 2015 and one in 2016.
Hord said what is most alarming is the amount of people attempting to commit suicide.
"We know for every suicide that's complete that there's another 25 attempts, and so while we know that men are demographically more likely to complete suicide females actually have a higher rate of attempting," Hord said. "So, what we look at is the concern of where there's a gap and what we suspect is that women are more likely to seek services during those attempts, whereas men may choose a more lethal means where that's the finality of it, and so we really want to look at how we can prevent that from even becoming an issue of how we can intervene earlier on."
In 1999, 16,599 suicides were committed with a firearm, and in 2014, there were 21,334.
Likely due to its consistency, more than half of the suicides in the U.S. involve a firearm, higher than any other means of attempt.
"One of the reasons we suspect that firearms is the most common method used is because it is the most lethal means, so if someone is truly suicide minded they're going to find what works," Hord said.
Even though the Constitution allows the right bare arms, experts support the obstacles that prevent those with mental illness from owing guns. However, they fear it is still not enough to prevent suicides.
"What concerns me is there may be an obstacle and while that may be great to provide some obstacles to them having access to something that's very lethal is that they might find some other way," Hord said. "A concern might be that we find they're using something else they find as lethal."
Currently, for someone with mental health problems to be prohibited from owing a gun a judge must declare they are unfit, being diagnosed by a doctor or psychiatrist is not enough. Which makes mental health experts wary because people with those illness could still own a gun and open carry, which could have negative affects on themselves and the public.
Hord thinks open carry won't have a direct affect on the number of suicides because if people are choosing to kill themselves with a firearm, they will find a way to do so.
"I think that probably someone is going to find a way to have access to that, so I think that the greater concern as far as open carry is how it impacts the public and those who aren't struggling with this issue because if someone has that in mind they may find a way to access that," Hord said, "But the greater concern with open carry is that someone who may not be in a good position to be carrying and having that on the public and putting the public at risk and that's where a little bit more of the concern lies."
Hord said the reason why most locals choose to take their lives is because their illnesses go untreated.
"Some of the things we tend to see really across the board are untreated mental health, which is really concerning which is why when we do prevention we really look at seeking out mental health services because it's clearly not a functional coping mechanism for problems that someone's dealing with," Hord said.
Hord said the main way to prevent people from taking their own lives, is to understand why are suicide minded.
"We have to look at prevention, intervention, and then even 'postvention' and how we're reacting to things," Hord said. "So, while the [suicide] method is concerning, going back to the root cause is why is it that they feel that is an option. What is their concern for their reasons for being suicide minded and so looking at if they're getting effective mental health services and are we treating that truly."
If you or someone you know needs help, call the crisis support line at 806-359-6699.