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Wyoming Continues To Be Number 1 For Suicides; Prevention Possible, Experts Say

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming continues to have the highest suicide rate in the country, according to a recent report released by the state’s Economic Analysis Division.

According to the report, the state saw 182 suicides in 2020 — the latest year for which official numbers are available — a rate of 31.3 suicides per 100,000 people, the highest in the country.

The number of suicides in 2021 fell to 161, said Jeremy Bay, executive director for the Grace For 2 Brothers Foundation, who warned against being too optimistic about the falling number.

Bay said Wyoming has topped the country for suicide rates for the last three years and ended the year in second place in 2017.

“I think we need to be cautious of having a ‘good’ year, then getting excited and taking our foot off the pedal for a time,” Bay told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “With suicide, you have to take a step back and look at the larger picture. We have definitely made improvements in the last 10 years, but we need to keep our efforts consistent.”

The state’s isolated communities, its “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitudes and the prevalence of guns in Wyoming all make for a tragic combination when it comes to suicides in the state.

Suicide is also the eighth-leading cause of death in Wyoming, according to Bay.

“When you look at the last 10 years, the suicide death rate by firearms is 65%,” Brittany Wardle, community prevention specialist with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, told Cowboy State Daily. “The pandemic made certain things noticeable, like that need for human connection, and some of these communities have seven people per square mile.”

While Bay said everyone is a risk for suicide, he noted that middle-aged men in Wyoming are most likely to complete a suicide attempt. A contributing factor to that fact is the number of military members and veterans that live in the state.

Veterans in the United States accounted for 6,261 suicide deaths last year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wardle said one of the reasons for Wyoming’s high suicide rate is that the state historically has not implemented policies supportive of suicide prevention.

“It’s not always about suicide prevention itself, but things that are related to it, like substance abuse,” Wardle said. “We haven’t increased the alcohol tax statewide since the Prohibition. We know substance use has a big impact on death. We know alcohol is involved in many of our suicides here.”

“It’s really important to know that some of these options that would make a huge difference for overall public health and connecting to that suicide prevention risk,” she continued.

Bay said that one effort he is undertaking this year is to work on community partnerships across the state, which will help with prevention and follow-up care, which is something that is essential when working with those in crisis.

“I strongly believe that in order to change the trend in Wyoming, we have to get ahead of some of this stuff before it’s a crisis,” he said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

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Wyoming Coronavirus: Social Isolation Could Lead to Increase in Suicides

in News/Coronavirus

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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.

MAP: Suicide Death Rates for U.S. Counties

“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.”

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‘Rugged individualism’ may contribute to high Mountain West suicide rates, says expert

in Uncategorized/News/Health care
A sense of “rugged individualism” may contribute to the fact that the Mountain West states have some of the highest suicide rates in the nation, according to an expert in Cheyenne.

By Cowboy State Daily

A sense of “rugged individualism” may contribute to the fact that the Mountain West states have some of the highest suicide rates in the nation, according to an expert in Cheyenne.

Linda Goodman, the chief clinical officer at Peak Wellness Center in Cheyenne, said people suffering from depression or other issues in Wyoming and other rural states resist seeking assistance from counselors.

“The rugged individuality is a big piece of it,” she said. “The mentality that ‘I just need to cowboy up and be tough.’ That rugged individualism says ‘I need to be able to handle my problems by myself.”

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control set Wyoming’s suicide rate at 26.9 per 100,000 people, the third highest ranking in the country. Wyoming joined Montana, Utah, Idaho and Colorado among the states with the 10 highest suicide rates in the nation.

Nationally, suicides have contributed to what was reported in a Detroit newspaper as a reduction in the life expectancy of Americans.

Author Mitch Albom wrote that death rates are rising among working class people who are middle aged and older, largely from what he described as “deaths of despair,” suicides and complications that arise from alcohol and drug abuse among people who believe they cannot achieve the “American dream.”

Goodman said she believes such feelings are often seen among the children of families who survived the Great Depression and World War II and vowed to give their children everything they needed to live the American dream.

“And for some of us, that is looking less and less like the American dream we had envisioned,” she said. “For some Americans today, it means having to let that dream go and if you don’t have the resilience to have another dream that emerges, then you are left with despair.”

Many people found themselves homeless or broke with the turbulent economies of recent years,” Goodman said.

“For people that had the ability to say ‘I’m going to drop back … I’m going to get back on my feet,’ that was fine,” she said. “But for people who did not have that, they turned to ways to avoid having to deal with those problems. That can be through the use of alcohol, it can be through the use of drugs, it can be through depression …”

Goodman said one thing that can help someone suffering from despair is for those people to help others who are less fortunate.

“There’s nothing that will help you more to feel like you have meaning in your life than to help someone else,” she said.

This story has been updated. A previous version of this story misstated the suicide rate.

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