Coroner Rae Wooten sees suicides rise, reaches out to survivors

As with the rest of the nation, Charleston County’s suicide numbers have increased over the past decade.

Last year, 53 people in the county died by suicide compared to 44 in 2007 and 39 in 2002.

However, it is unclear why, Coroner Rae Wooten said.

“The study of suicide is extremely challenging because there are so many variables,” Wooten said.

Although situations vary, she describes seeing four general groups: those who have long suffered from mental illness; people who end their lives impulsively due to an emotional event and those who are elderly or terminally ill.

By far, the largest group are people ages 25 to 50 who are in their working years, often raising families or caring for aging parents, perhaps while also dealing with underlying mental health problems.

Despite the cause, suicide leaves loved ones behind to cope with the loss. Wooten urges survivors to get help rather than trying to handle their grief alone. That help can come from therapists, clergy, support groups or medication, experts say.

“You don’t want this suicide to determine your future and therefore the future of people who love you,” Wooten said. “We can’t overemphasize the importance of survivors getting help.”

For many, the hardest issue is a tendency to blame themselves for something they did before their loved one died — or for something they did not do.

“The person who makes this decision is the one who is ultimately responsible for it,” Wooten said.

Many people who take their lives are so exhausted by long-term or acute feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that they cannot see that life will improve.

“How can you not be compassionate to that person?” Wooten asked. “But it’s not the result of a failure on the part of the survivor.”

On the other hand, people who see friends or family struggling emotionally should reach out without fear of meddling.

“Don’t be afraid to approach them or to help them get help,” she said.

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