By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s suicide rates could rise as income loss and isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic hits home, but for now, suicide hotlines are reporting normal call volumes, a Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson said.
“One of the risk factors for suicide is social isolation,” said Lindsay Martin, the WDH Injury and Violence Prevention Program manager. “So, with the state of things, that’s something we’re keeping an eye on right now.”
Based on the most recent data collected nationally, Wyoming is second only to New Mexico in highest rates of suicide per capita in the nation. With no state-sponsored suicide call center currently in place, Martin said the WDH uses data from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) to gauge which regions are more at risk than others.
“They have said that not only has there not been an increase of calls from Wyoming,” Martin said. “But, no state has seen a notable increase in calls.”
Martin stressed information from the calls is confidential, but the NSPL reports the date and location of calls.
People aged 55 and older are in Wyoming’s highest risk bracket, followed closely by middle-aged males, Martin said. While social distancing is a prominent factor for seniors, she said loss of income is the primary reported trigger for suicide among middle-aged people.
At a time when social distancing and loss of income have become the new norm, Martin said WDH is approaching suicide rates with hyper-vigilance.
“The Mountain West Region was dubbed by the media as the ‘suicide belt,’ because we have such high rates in the surrounding states,” she said. “So we are always in a high-alert state of mind. But, we know there are a lot of things at play here, and we’re doing everything we can to be as proactive as possible.”
Suicide prevention and awareness involves everything from coordinating with school counselors to working alongside the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services as well as supplying counties with community prevention specialists, Martin explained.
“We oversee community prevention grants in 22 of Wyoming’s 23 counties,” she said, adding Platte County was the outlier. “Each county has their own committee and approaches prevention a little differently.”
With no indication suicide rates are being affected by the pandemic, Martin said she is focusing on maintaining strong communication with her community prevention specialists and supporting other essential services for people facing financial insecurity.
On the home front, Wyomingites can step up their own suicide prevention efforts by keeping in contact with loved ones and neighbors.
“One of the first things you can do is educate yourself on risk factors,” Martin said. “And, if you observe a loved one that is acting in an unusual way, don’t be afraid to ask that tough question or use the ‘suicide’ word.”
The WDH advises anyone in immediate danger of harming themselves, or who knows of someone in immediate danger of harming themselves, to call 911 for emergency services. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “WYO” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.
“Call each other, do FaceTime or go get groceries for a neighbor and leave them on the porch,” Martin said. “It’s really about making everybody in a community feel like they are a member of that community.”