The Nov. 17 suicide of Chief Assistant State Attorney Manny Madruga brought to light a startling statistic at times overlooked in the paradise of Monroe County: It has the highest suicide rate among all 67 Florida counties.
“The numbers are staggering in proportion to the rest of society,” said Bob Eadie, Monroe County Health Department administrator.
The county’s death rate from suicide is 27.7 per 100,000 residents, determined by 66 suicides over a three-year period from 2013 to 2015, according to the state Department of Health. Although the county has a population of 77,482, the average rate of suicide is nearly twice as high as the state rate of 14.1 deaths per 100,000 residents over the course of the same three years.
The Health Department said Madruga’s was the ninth local suicide since January, preceded by 25-year-old Chris Cox, an inmate at the Stock Island Detention Center who was found hanged in his jail cell on Oct. 23. Cox was not a Monroe County resident.
“It just rolls all the way through our society here and one way that it manifests is we’re sort of the end of the road in a lot of ways for a lot of people. It’s something we try to work on,” Eadie said of the Health Department’s efforts.
In the Florida Keys, suicide is the fifth-leading cause of death behind cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury and all other natural causes, according to the 2013 Monroe County Community Health Almanac.
Marathon resident and former City Councilman Bill Kelly continues to be involved with local suicide-prevention awareness. He participated in Leadership Monroe County, a seven-month program aimed at community residents who are active in leadership roles, and helped organize the inaugural 2015 Out of the Darkness walk on Stock Island to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
“Suicide hits right across the board — rich, poor, black or white, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Kelly’s brother Tommy committed suicide in 1981.
“People have no idea the pain and the sorrow that they’ll leave behind with ending it all. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about that day when I held my brother in my arms,” he said.
For those who may be experiencing issues with mental health or substance abuse, the Guidance Care Center Inc. offers services to adults, children and families from all incomes and walks of life. There are locations in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West.
“A lot of times when people are feeling suicidal, once they get help or we keep them safe that feeling subsides,” said Maureen Kempa, area director for Guidance Care Center. “We’ve had people come back and say ‘You saved my life. I’m so grateful.’ ”
The Guidance Care Center phone number is (305) 434-7660.
Also, Switchboard 2-1-1 Helpline of the Keys is Monroe County’s crisis counseling helpline and is available at (305) 296-4357 or 2-1-1.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219