The Ohio University study found that 37 of Ohio’s 88 counties, many of them rural and with little access to health care, are now above 14 for every 100,000 people.

A sweeping new examination of suicide in Ohio in the past decade finds that 37 of the 88 counties now surpass the national rate, and the coronavirus pandemic likely is triggering a “staggering” increase in such deaths.

Ohio’s rural counties are confronting a rise in suicides, the report says, with few if any resources to help people suffering life-threatening depression.

Along the Ohio River in southern Ohio, Brown County, for example, has $20,000 set aside for suicide prevention, the study found, while Hamilton County has about $4 million.

The study’s author said that for the first time, suicide rates are calculated to the township level in southwest and northeast Ohio, giving mental health care providers a more precise idea of where a prevention message is most needed.

The study, “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures and the Future,” was released Monday from Ohio University, where Executive in Residence Orman Hall oversaw the analysis. Officials with the Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition, the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health and the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation were involved in developing the report.

Hall, a longtime Fairfield County mental health administrator, was director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services in the Kasich administration. He said OU got death data kept at the Ohio Department of Health, and the study team focused on suicides between 2009 and 2018. The 10 years provided enough information for a more precise picture, he said.

“Everything is local,” Hall said. “The degree to which we can provide information on this problem, the degree to which we can be local, it becomes more urgent and more real. And that’s what I think we were able to do. That’s why we aggregated the 10 years' worth of data.”

Franklin County’s rate of suicide, 12.45 per 100,000, ranked 59th out of Ohio’s 88 counties, according to the study. Licking County ranked 20th; Pickaway County, 23rd; Madison County, 61st; Fairfield County, 74th; Union County, 82nd, and Delaware County, 87th.

“Suicide is increasing at a pretty alarming rate around the state,” said Tony Coder, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “This is a conversation that needs to be happening.”

He worries about how social distancing is affecting people’s mental health and urges people to reach out to loved ones.

For at least three years, federal reports have found that suicide has been increasing for much of the 21st century. The national rate of suicide now is around 14 for every 100,000 people in the population.

The OU study found that 37 of Ohio’s 88 counties, many of them rural and with little access to health care, are now above 14 for every 100,000 people. Seven of the 10 counties with the highest rates of suicide have fewer than 50,000 people. Brown County was No. 6.

The average annual rates of suicide deaths range from a low of 7 per 100,000 people in Holmes County to a high of 24 in Meigs County. Of central Ohio counties, Licking County had the highest rate at 16, followed by Pickaway at 15. Fairfield, Franklin, Knox, Madison and Morrow are at 12 per 100,000, and Union is at 11.

Many southern and southeastern Ohio counties are particularly affected. Adams, Gallia and Jackson counties are all at 20 suicides per 100,000 people. Hocking is at 19. Highland, Pike and Ross are all at 17.

The report said other recent studies estimate that increases in suicides move with increases in the unemployment rate. “With the unemployment rate rising to 16.8% in May 2020,” the OU study said, “an associated surge in suicides has the potential to be staggering.”

Anyone having thoughts of suicide can get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers); the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-221-5445; texting 4HOPE to 741741 to reach someone at Ohio's 24/7 Crisis Text Line; or reaching Ohio State's counseling center at 614-292-5766 during regular business hours, and at that number after hours by pressing "Option 2."

Dispatch Reporter Megan Henry contributed to this story.

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