A sizable decline in Wyoming’s suicide rate is giving some mental health providers optimism for the state that leads the nation in per capital suicides.
The Wyoming Department of Health released 2022 data in a press release on Tuesday that show an improving picture for mental health in Wyoming.
There was a 22% drop in suicides from 2021 to 149. It was the first time Wyoming’s suicide rate has dropped since 2018.
“In those suicide rates, we’re seeing a flattening of the growth curve,” said Andi Summerville, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers.
She said this gives mental health providers hope that the long-term societal side effects brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic may be starting to wane.
10,000 988 Calls
Summerville believes the state’s two 988 suicide call centers, now staffed 24/7, can be partially credited for Wyoming’s improving numbers. The centers have fielded more than 10,000 calls since 2020.
“That’s a huge number,” Summerville told Cowboy State Daily. “It shows the situation is being mitigated. We hope it’s having that impact.”
Despite the high call rate, legislators opted to not provide a permanent funding source for the centers during the past legislative session. Wyoming has consistently had one of the highest suicide rates in the country over the last few years.
Data shows that about 72% of suicide deaths were from firearms, 22% from hanging, and 4% from poisoning.
How The Economy Goes
Summerville also said the state of the economy plays a significant role in Wyoming’s suicide rate. It’s not a surprising take, as financial concerns and unemployment often have a direct correlation to mental health.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many people lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off in Wyoming. There also were significant social distancing measures put in place that separated people from their friends and loved ones for long periods of time.
“Those hardships affect people pretty significantly,” Summerville said.
Correspondingly, there was a spike in suicides in 2020, which built off an increase in 2019.
Summerville also said what makes effectively analyzing Wyoming’s numbers tricky is the state’s low population, which can make it hard to determine whether a small increase or decrease is statistically significant.
WDH Director Stefan Johannsen said the small sample size can be taken into account by looking at longer-term trends and rates rather than year-over-year numbers.
Overdoses Also Down
There were 93 overdose deaths in 2022, five fewer than in 2021, the WDH reports. The overdose death rate in Wyoming has fluctuated over the last decade, with much lower numbers reported from 2016-2018 than the years prior and after.
Of those overdoses, 29% were linked to prescription drugs, 59% to illicit drugs and 10% a combination of the two. Opioids were connected to 77% of the deaths.
Combating the highly potent drug fentanyl has been a major target for Wyoming law enforcement in recent years. There were even a few bills drafted to address fentanyl by the Wyoming Legislature in the recent session, although none passed into law. fentanyl was linked to 51% of the deaths and meth 50%.
“Adding these numbers gives you a higher number than the total because of drug definitions and because overdoses often involve ‘combined’ drugs or multiple drugs,” explained Guy Beaudoin, Vital Statistics Services deputy state registrar with the Wyoming Department of Health.
The WDH reports these as the top five causes of death In Wyoming In 2022:
1. Heart disease
3. Accidents and adverse effects
4. Pulmonary disease
COVID was the third most common cause of death in 2020 and 2021.
Birth Rate Drops Again
The birth rate in Wyoming continued a decline, a continuation of a long-term national trend. There were 6,050 births to Wyoming mothers in 2022, compared to 6,236 in 2021.
Studies have shown that since the economic recession of 2008, there has been a slow and steady decline in the overall birth rate.
Historically, economic downturns have caused birth rates to go down, but they usually perk back up when conditions improve. This has not happened nationally over the last 12 years.
According to a 2022 University of Maryland and Wellesley College study, the U.S. birth rate was 55.8 births per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44, a decline of almost 20% from the rate of 69.3 in 2007.
This is largely connected to a decline in the number of children women are having.
The number of Wyoming marriages was also down in 2022 at 4,227. Divorces dropped as well at 1,905.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Wyoming’s two 988 suicide calls centers have fielded 10,000 calls since they began in 2020, not since January.