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Coroners See More Suicides Among Black People In McLean, Peoria Counties

Notes posted onto board about mental health
Rick Bowmer
McLean County has reached its highest suicide count since 2016, but Coroner Kathy Yoder says it's not clear how much the pandemic may have played a role.

Suicide rates didn't change much in Peoria and McLean counties this year, despite a pandemic that caused hardship for many.

Jamie Harwood
Credit Peoria County Coroner
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said it typically takes multiple negative events before someone contemplates suicide.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said he still sees a disturbing trend, noting more Black people took their own lives in Peoria County this year. He said there was a greater concentration of suicides in low-income neighborhoods in Peoria.

“Those are minority populations who may not be at reach for prevention measures and strategies to prevent suicides, so it’s something we definitely need to pay attention to,” Harwood said.

Harwood said he hopes to work with the Hult Center for Health Livingand other organizations to work on more prevention strategies.

McLean County Coroner Kathy Yoder said her office also saw a greater percentage of suicides among Black people in 2020.  She said the county had five suicides among Black people in 2020, compared with eight suicides among African-Americans from 2015 to 2019.

Yoder said it’s not clear whether it points to a larger trend.

“(I can’t) make an assumption, but it is concerning,” Yoder agreed. “Any suicide is concerning.”

Through November, McLean County's 22 suicides are the county's highest since 2016, when 25 people took their own lives. The county recorded 18 suicides in 2018 and 17 in 2017.

Kathy Yoder
Credit WGLT file photo
McLean County Coroner Kathy Yoder said isolation during the holidays will be especially difficult for those who are dealing with loneliness during the pandemic.

Yoder said it's not clear how much the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role, noting that six suicides happened in January and February, before the pandemic began.

Yoder added she is concerned about the number of people who are dealing with greater isolation during a socially-distanced holiday season.

“You worry about the people who live alone and have those holidays alone, where as before, you knew if your friend was alone, you’d invite them over,” Yoder said. “Now, that’s not really a possibility.”

Yoder added she was concerned to see an increase in suicides among young people. Ten people who took their lives this year were under age 35. 

Peoria County had 20 suicides from January through November. That compares with 21 last year and 22 in 2018.

Harwood said the pandemic hasn't led to a rise in suicides in his county. He said it typically takes multiple factors to prompt someone to take their own life.

“Depression, sadness, it could be from a loss of a job, loss of a relationship, things like that, but it’s usually a collection of different events,” Harwood said. “Then there might be one event that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back that leads them into that decision.”

Harwood noted 60% of this year’s suicides in Peoria County were men, which is more typical than the 29% seen last year. He said women attempt suicide at greater rates, though men are more likely to succeed.

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Eric Stock is a reporter at WGLT.