Local officials are concerned about an increase in veterans committing suicide in Peoria County.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood says there’s been an uptick in the overall number of suicides this year.
“Last year we had almost 29 deaths and we are coming close to that,” Harwood said.
Harwood says about one-third of the suicides involve veterans, in both rural and urban environments.
“It’s not really matching a national trend now. When we look at national numbers we look at a teenage group,” Harwood said. “The nightly news last week, they focused on teenage females. We just aren’t seeing that trend in Peoria County.”
Harwood has been in contact with the Hult Center for Healthy Living in Peoria, and believes there is not enough concern about veterans’ mental health.
“We are missing the population for a couple of reasons,” Harwood said. “Number one they are not seeking help. For a lack of a better word, male machismo is getting in the way.”
Christina Gerlach is the Assistant Behavioral Health Manager at UnityPoint Health Methodist|Proctor. She says the intake center, which is located in the hospital’s emergency department, has seen a recent increase in veterans with behavioral health needs.
So she and other staff members reach out to local veteran’s groups for additional training.
“The symptoms we see from patients themselves report is an increased withdrawal from daily activity…hypersensitivity…a lot of times they report their moods are out of control,” Gerlach said.
Gerlach says it’s valuable to remind veterans they are “part of a team,” whether that be in their family, friend group or work.
“Be thankful…have an honest dialoge and recognize they have had challenging experiences…we are here to give them a tool box to give them that transition to feel like they are part of a team again.”
Harwood says many veterans do not know help exists. If you think someone you know is struggling, it’s important to reach out to them.
The Hult Center has resources available for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.