Coweta Suicide Statistics
Women more likely to take own lives
by Bradley Hartsell
Editor’s note: This article is a result of the Times-Herald’s focus in recent days on suicide and depression following the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams.
Coweta County is the exception to the national average in suicides by gender, opening questions as to why Coweta differs so heavily from the country as a whole.
In 2011, according to the most recent data on suicides for Coweta County provided by Coweta County Health Department Nurse Manager Dana Scales, the county showed 39 self-inflicted deaths by women and 10 for men, which contrasts with the national average of men committing suicide three times more often, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The statistics bring the question of whether domestic abuse and the county’s resources in dealing with such situations is a factor.
Linda Kirkpatrick spent more than 10 years with Newnan’s women and children domestic abuse shelter, Community Welcome House. While shocked at Coweta’s female suicide rate compared with the national average, Kirkpatrick doesn’t rule out domestic violence and even the culture of the Deep South.
“When someone is the true domestic violence victim, they feel like they have nowhere else to go or no one to talk to. To them, there’s no way out,” said Kirkpatrick, who left Community Welcome House to start another domestic violence resource: Family Patterns Matter. “I think a lot of it is because in our county, domestic violence is very hidden and it’s embarrassing. In Coweta, maybe you know ‘everybody’ and you’re embarrassed if everybody knows you’re being abused, because Coweta County is so close-knit and because there’s so many multi-generational families. It’s what happens at home stays at home.”
Theresa Wash, who took over for Kirkpatrick as the executive director of Community Welcome House, lived 17 years in a domestic violence situation. Through personal experience, Wash knows how domestic abuse victims have a feeling of inescapability and understands why women feel depression and, in some cases, commit suicide.
“There is a period of depression, first of all, deciding whether to leave or not to leave,” said Wash. “You’re leaving an environment that’s been destructive but it’s also been your household and you’re unsure about going into the unknown, even if it’s a shelter.”
Statistically, Coweta lags behind the state in mental and behavioral health resources. In a Piedmont health needs assessment, Coweta has one mental health resource for every 18,727 residents, while the state average is one mental health resource for every 3,504. According to Wash, Georgia ranks first in teen dating violence.
Melissa Sizemore of Coweta County’s Domestic Violence Task Force said Georgia ranks 12th in the nation in domestic abuse fatalities, which actually improved from 10th in the nation just a few years ago. Sizemore has concerns about a lack of resources in the county, given the cause for concern in Georgia.
“Obviously, women [nationwide] have no way out [of a domestic violence situation] or it’s very difficult if they do decide to leave, and it becomes the most dangerous time for them,” Sizemore said. “The resources in Coweta are very limited compared to the other counties around us. The places we do have are bombarded. Abused women wind up feeling like they have no other option but to take their own life to get out of that situation.”
While a lack of resources is a possible answer in the question of Coweta County bucking a national trend, Kirkpatrick, a Newnan resident by way of California, sees culture as a possible answer as well.
“I think, in some instances, women are made to feel inferior, maybe more so in the South,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve been in Coweta since 1979, but I’m from California, where women are more outspoken and are more heads of households. In the South, they are not always the same. Here, women have to keep it all inside them and they’re afraid to speak out. If a woman a can’t pull away from that, maybe that’s why she’s killing herself, thinking, ‘I’m useless, I’m never going to be anything more than I am right now.’”
“Living here for as long as I have, children and women are sometimes taught ‘seen and not heard,’ girls especially, a lot of times,” she added. “Girls are going to grow up, get married, stay at home and take care of the family, they’re told. As a result, maybe men are looking more for the submissive types and not the outspoken.”
In working with Community Welcome House and starting Family Patterns Matter, Kirkpatrick has found such a cultural stigma plaguing domestic abuse victims.
“What we have found is young girls think it’s great when guys control them,” she said “They think that means he really likes them instead of it being a controlling behavior. Then when they get married, they become aware of the controlling factor – I have to cook and clean and I can’t better myself – and how difficult it is being boxed in.”
While Sizemore had serious concerns about Coweta County’s suicide trend being the exception to the rule, she wasn’t so willing to side with Kirkpatrick.
“I’m not so sure that’s completely correct,” Sizemore said. “If you look at inner cities, you have a high rate of domestic violence, even higher than Coweta. I don’t think all suicides can correlate to domestic violence. I think there are other issues, like with the economy just tanking on us, there was an increase in suicides in that, with families feeling the financial burdens.”
“I don’t know what was going on in Coweta that year  that would differ from nationwide. I think it would be hard to determine without any kind of fatality review being done. There could be so many reasons they’re feeling despair,” she added. “However, the only resource we really have here is Community Welcome House, which has a limited amount of beds. Last year alone, we had 1,288 calls to 911 related to domestic abuse.”
While Sizemore pointed out domestic violence situations are more and more being brought to them by men who are being abused by women, Kirkpatrick still believes women should be persistent in seeking the care they need to safely escape from domestically violent situations.
“With the trauma and depression of domestic abuse, it’s such a difficult thing to understand,” Kirkpatrick said. “You, as family, a friend or a counselor, have to be compassionate and listen to them and not judge them. Offer them that hope so that they don’t commit suicide.”