While teen suicides have caught the public’s attention in recent years, the age group with the highest suicide rate in Fairfax County is actually those age 60-plus, according to a new analysis of the county’s suicide data.
The elder suicide rate in the county was 12.6 per 100,000 people between 2003 and 2010, according to the report. That compares to 3.3 per 100,000 people for ages 10 to 19, between 2003 and 2011, and 10.3 per 100,000 people for adults over 25.
All of Fairfax County’s suicide rates are lower than national averages.
A team of staff from several county agencies compiled the report and presented the findings to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The goal is to find strategies to reduce the prevalence of suicides in the county.
The report recommends placing a funding priority on prevention activities, as well as further exploring the causes of suicide and potential prevention strategies.
There are some common factors in cases of suicide that are outlined in the report. More than 65 percent of people who committed suicide had a mental health problem, and about 70 percent of those people were receiving treatment for their mental health problem at the time of their deaths.
Relationship problems, whether with an intimate partner or someone else, and substance abuse were other common circumstances.
There are some different factors among the various age groups. Youth who committed suicide were more likely to have problems at school or with the law, while elder suicides were more likely to be linked to a health problem.
About 52 percent of men age 60 or older and 39 percent of women in that age group had physical health problems, and about 39 percent of those with health problems had been diagnosed with cancer.
Most of the recommendations regarding the county’s suicide prevention efforts “are not very resource-intensive, they are things we can implement immediately,” said Jesse Ellis, an employee in the county executive’s office who helped compile the report.
One of the proposals that will require some financial investment from the county is increased investment in youth behavioral health services. That larger proposal is not solely focused on suicide prevention — it also aims to address general mental health and substance abuse issues among youth in the county.
The public school system and other county agencies are good at identifying children who need behavioral interventions, but there is a gap on the public side in providing treatment, said Brenda Gardiner of the Department of Administration for Human Services.
“This is the tier where we have the least investment,” she said. “We lack capacity to provide the treatment and we lack capacity for care coordination.”
Another interagency group reviewing youth behavioral health services is developing a work plan for increasing the availability of treatment over time.