Suicide Threats Have Soared Since The Storm - - The News for South Mississippi

Suicide Threats Have Soared Since The Storm

Phyllis Kennybrew has been a Harrison County dispatcher for six years.

"When I come in, I just feel like I can help somebody," she said.

Kennybrew lost her home to Katrina. She does her best to keep that disappointment out of the dispatch center, because she wants 911 callers to feel comfortable when they talk with her.

"Some people just need encouragement," she said. "And when they call in here, if we're down, then we can't give them that support that they need."

But since Katrina, staying upbeat in the Harrison County dispatch center hasn't been easy. The calls that come in are more agonizing than ever before.

Just ask Capt. Walter Pitts. He's noticed, "More people are under stress for the littlest things. It just ticks them off now."

And when people get ticked off, what they do next can be very dangerous. Sheriff George Payne has learned that lesson the hard way.

"This weekend alone we had about eight attempted suicide reports that we had to respond to and deal with," he said.

Eight calls from people who more than likely had seen too many hurricane debris piles -- or had one too many confrontations with insurance adjusters, contractors, or FEMA agents.

"We're just dealing with it day-by-day as it comes," one dispatcher said.

The sheriff noted that none of the 911 callers who threatened to kill themselves last weekend actually did. But he said since Katrina, suicides in the county have quadrupled, and 911 suicide threat phone calls have jumped 23%.

"Yes I worry about them," Capt. Pitts said, referring to both the callers and his dispatcher.

Pitts is monitoring how his staff handles this post traumatic stress situation.

"Since the storm life around here is totally different. It isn't the same. I don't think it will ever be the same," he said.

Dispatchers suddenly hear a lot more hopelessness in voices on the other end of their phones. At those tension filled moments, they let their training take over. They do whatever it takes to save lives in Harrison County.

According to the Mayo Clinic web site, five million Americans a year experience post traumatic stress. Within a few months of a devastating event like a hurricane, they have terrible flashbacks that unnerve them. The disorder is twice as likely to occur in women than men.

by Brad Kessie

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