Conducted by The Lehigh County Suicide Prevention Task Force
Periodically, high profile tragic events bring the issue of suicide into the national spotlight. These events confirm that suicide is an alarming public health problem that is highly misunderstood and rarely discussed. Because of the significant stigma that surrounds death by suicide, interventions tend to happen as a quick reaction to high profile tragedies and generally involve one-time awareness campaigns that include posting crisis numbers and emergency response tactics, rather than offering a suggestion to look at the root of the problem ahead of the crisis.
In 2016, several local leaders took on the task of looking at hard data about suicide in Lehigh County and asked: What do we know about these tragedies? Who exactly dies from suicide in our communities? How do they die? Where do they live? They asked these questions in hope of generating conversations and strategies to effectively prevent suicide deaths.
What follows in this report are a few key findings from this data analysis, as well as an invitation to join in the conversations about how communities might develop local interventions to prevent more of these heartbreaking deaths.
What we learned from the data
Finding #1: Suicide is a significant problem in Lehigh County
The number of suicides in Lehigh County has been trending up for years. They exceed the rates nationally, and the rates for Pennsylvania. For every death by suicide, there are 25 attempts (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018).
Suicide, Age-Adjusted Death Rate
(Per 100,000 Pop.)
Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics System. Accessed via CDC WONDER. 2012-16. Source geography: County
Sadly, Lehigh County suicide rates exceed National rates across all age groups
Finding #2: Suicide occurs within some specific describable populations. Data can provide a better understanding of possible contributing factors.
- 72% of all people who died by suicides since 2011 lived in four primary geographic clusters in Lehigh County:
- People who die by suicide in Lehigh County are predominately white (84.4%) and male (75%)
Finding #3: People use a variety of means to complete suicide
Methods of Suicide in Lehigh County:
The next steps
The numbers only tell a part of the story. There are other parts of the story we all need to better understand.
- Risk factors – the characteristics that make it more likely that individuals will consider, attempt or die by suicide.
- Protective factors– the characteristics that make it less likely that individuals will consider, attempt or die by suicide are local, community-specific factors.
- The impact of suicide – each suicide leaves behind more than 100 affected lives, devastating for a family and for an entire community.
It is important that a deeper understanding of these risk and protective factors, as well as community-level prevention strategies and support, be influenced by and rooted in our local communities.
We need your help
Our Task Force will be engaging in an initial series of discussions across Lehigh County. These dialogues will be open to families, community leaders, health care providers, school employees, members of social service agencies and anyone else interested in reducing suicide in the Lehigh Valley.
Led by qualified facilitators, the data analysis conducted by the Suicide Prevention Task Force will be shared to stimulate discussions about strategies and approaches to address suicides and other deaths of despair. The information that is shared from these discussions will be gathered and made available throughout the Lehigh Valley to enhance all of our collective work to reduce suicides.
Here’s how you can find out more- (How will people learn about community discussions? Gmail account, Facebook page, etc.)
Lehigh County Suicide Prevention Task Force:
- William Vogler, Ph.D., Pinebrook Family Answers – 610.972.4436
- Vicky Kistler, MEd, Allentown Health Bureau – 610-392-1436
- Ron Dendas, MS, Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust
- Scott Grim, D-ABMDI, Lehigh County Coroner
- Jim Presto, Aevidum & American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Richard Orlemann, MS, Lehigh County Office of Mental Health Services
- David Zimmerman, MPH, CAADC, Lehigh Valley Health Network
Funding for this work was provided by The Rider-Pool Foundation and The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline