I grew up in an extremely small town in Pennsylvania near the West Virginia border. Growing up in a small town meant many things: the roads always had giant potholes, the smell of farm animals was nearly inescapable, the tractor parade was one of the highlights of the school year and suicide, while still uncommon in practice, was a common thought among many community members.
Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death among Americans, accounting for 12.6 deaths in every 100,000 people. In metropolitan areas, suicide rates rose 7% between 2004 and 2013. However, in rural areas, suicide rates between the same years saw a 20% increase.
This difference in suicide rates between metropolitan and rural areas can be attributed to many things, mainly isolation, a lack of privacy, a higher instance of the mentality that you have to solve your own problems and reduced access to mental health treatment.
One of the most unique aspects of small-town life is how everyone knows what is going on in your life and yet you can often feel extremely alone. People in rural areas often feel isolated partially due to the fact that they often live far away from other people, and more so due to the fact they often are part of or are raised by an older generation that believes you should not have to call on others to solve your problems for you. Because of this mentality, people do not often share their feelings and problems with others and instead just bottle-up their negative thoughts instead of addressing them.
Contrary to what you might believe, however, people in rural areas do not often enjoy a great deal of privacy due to the fact that everyone knows you and your family; they can recognize your car parked in a strange parking lot, and news travels like wildfire. Because of isolation, people often harbor depressive thoughts, and, because of a lack of privacy, people do not want to seek help because they do not want to let their problems be known to the entire community. Even if they did want to seek help, however, most small towns barely have a doctor’s office much less access to a mental health professional. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 55% of counties in the United States, all of them rural, do not have even one psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.
All of these problems lead to people attempting to handle all of their negative thoughts and feelings themselves and, eventually, committing suicide because the strain is too much. Garrett Cilli ’19, who grew up in the small town of Hookstown, Pa., identified an additional problem that can lead to an increased rate of suicide in small towns.
“Alcohol and substance abuse plays a big role (in small-town suicides),” said Cilli.
Cilli also identified the problem that “everyone knows everyone and is in everyone else’s business” as taking a role in small town suicides because no one wants to risk looking weak in front of the entire community.
Like I said, suicide in the town where I grew up was not common, but it was not unheard of. I can remember writing a student’s name on my wrist my freshman year of high school in memory of a boy who committed suicide at a neighboring school; I remember talking to a tearful family friend about how his friend took his own life; and I remember my mother sitting me down and explaining to me that I wouldn’t be seeing one of our neighbors anymore because he had died at his own hand the week before. Suicide is a problem that can rattle and leave a lasting effect on any community, particularly small towns.
Katilyn Vogel ‘18 best summed it up when she said, “No matter if you live in a big town or small town, suicide can have an impact on everyone in the community. Whether it is a student or a parent, the community as a whole grieves.”