DOWNTOWN — A 40-year-old woman found near the bike path with a gunshot wound to the head took her own life, the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled Tuesday.
This brings the number of suicides in Santa Monica to 12, with at least 20 failed attempts, raising alarm amongst public safety officials and mental health providers.
In 2008, there were nine fatalities and 15 attempts.
The latest victim was identified as Eve Layla Qureini of Los Angeles. Her body was found early Sunday morning in the 600 block of the beach between the bicycle path and the ocean. A suicide note was found near the body, police said.
While national statistics show that men take their own lives at a rate four times that of females, in Santa Monica that has not been the case. Of the 12 confirmed cases of suicide in 2009, at least eight involved women.
At least four used a firearm, one overdosed on drugs, three died by hanging, two by jumping from a tall structure, and one by a cut to the wrist or neck. The victims ranged in ages, from the 20s to 70-plus. The oldest was 91.
Recent research has shown that suicide is on the rise nationally, particularly amongst middle-aged white women. A team at John Hopkins University in Baltimore found that the overall suicide rate rose .7 percent between 1999 and 2005, with the rate for white men rising 2.7 percent and for middle-aged women, 3.9 percent.
While there are no official statistics for 2007 or 2008, mental health providers believe the economic downturn could be responsible for the increase in calls suicide hotlines have received in the last few months.
Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline jumped 36 percent from 2007 to 2008, totaling 545,000 last year, said director John Draper. But callers were increasing before the economic collapse, and about half of the added calls in 2008 came from taking over a veterans suicide line, Draper said.
Historically, suicide rates have shown no clear association with times of economic recession, although suicide rates did increase slightly during the years of the Great Depression, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide, the association said, as the feeling of hopelessness intensifies.
Locally, suicide prevention hotlines have seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls received.
Lyn Morris, division director of emergency services for Didi Hirsch Community Health Center, said she has seen a 65 percent jump in calls to its 24-hour hotline, (877) 727-4747.
“We are noticing a lot more people reaching out for help and support right now,” Morris said.
There are many factors that can contribute to suicidal thoughts, the main one being an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness.
“It becomes so bad people feel hopeless, despondent and unable to see hope for the future.” she said. “Lately, with the economy going south, we have seen a lot of people who lost their jobs and have been out of work for a longer period of time, which is something they haven’t experienced before, which contributes to that feeling of hopelessness.”
Family members and friends should be on the lookout for warning signs such as a loved one talking openly about having thoughts of committing suicide, increases in alcohol or drug abuse, drastic changes in mood, purchasing a gun or stockpiling drugs, or making amends.
“If someone comes up to a friend or family member out of the blue and says something like, ‘You are the best sister anyone could ever have and I just wanted you to know that,’ sort of offering a last goodbye, that is a warning sign,” Morris said.
In addition to offering services to those contemplating suicide, Didi Hirsch also offers support groups for those who have lost a loved one.
“It is a different kind of loss,” she said.
For more information about services, go to www.didihirsch.org or call the toll-free hotline.