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.