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More people die by suicide than homicide in Tulsa

Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a population of around 400,000 and is known for its Art Deco architecture. It is part of a largely rural state in the South Central U.S. that is known for many things, including the land rush of the 1880s, the longest stretch of old Route 66, its famous zoo, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial, built in tribute to those who died in the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The last thing that might come to mind about Oklahoma, and Tulsa in particular, is its high suicide rate, which is 37 percent higher than the national rate, even though the state is near the bottom in spending on mental health services. In the U.S. as a whole, there are 12.6 suicides for every 100,000 people annually. Tulsa ranks 15th among U.S. cities, with a rate of 16.8 suicides per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

University of Tulsa President Gerard Clancy, M.D., voiced his concern in an interview with Tulsa World, which reported that the number of suicides in Tulsa last year was 103, while the number of murders was 82. Dr. Clancy is in charge of the Tulsa Regional Mental Health Plan, a long-range effort to study suicide and other mental health problems.

What contributes to high suicide rates?

There remains a stigma attached to suicide, and many go unreported because family members do not want anyone to know the cause of death. Suicide is reported by the media less than crime, giving credence to the unspoken “if it bleeds it leads” criteria for headlines. When a person dies by suicide, family members not only grieve, but they also feel shame. Mental illness can be treated like any physical illness and keeping it under wraps helps no one.

According to Dr. Clancy, major depressive disorder is a big contributor to suicide attempts, but even then family members tend not to discuss the subject with others. Our language about suicide has changed, as the term “committed suicide” has been replaced by “died by suicide.” The word “committed” implies a crime, and in many parts of the world suicide is considered a crime.

According to Mental Health America, in 2014, Oklahoma ranked 11th in the U.S. for mental illness prevalence and 39th in access to care.

Mike Brose, executive director of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, told Tulsa World, “We know that if people feel disenfranchised and economically burdened, those can be factors. We also know that ethnic, religious and racial groups other than white use mental health services at a much lower rate.”

Treatment at Sovereign Health

Sovereign Health of El Paso, Texas, provides treatment for patients with substance use disorders that might co-occur with mental disorders like depression and suicidal ideation. We thoroughly assess each patient so that we can diagnose and treat all disorders concurrently. In addition, our staff includes both English- and Spanish-speaking clinicians who can offer bilingual care. If you or a loved one is experiencing a substance use or mental disorder, don’t hesitate to call our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team who can help.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. A former nurse, she enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness, which unfortunately still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at

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