Wyoming is on pace to have another year with a high suicide rate.
The state was No. 1 in the nation in 2012, and behavioral health officials in the state are startled at the high rate of people taking their lives this year.
“It’s been alarmingly high,” said Terresa Humphries-Wadsworth, the state suicide-prevention coordinator.
Twenty-five people took their own lives in Wyoming in the first quarter of 2013, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health. Twenty-eight people had killed themselves by the end of the first quarter in 2012. At this point, the numbers are preliminary because state officials are still tracking deaths from coroners across the state, said Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the department.
Experts are startled at the numbers coming out of Park County. Six suicides have occurred within its borders since January. Five have happened since Easter, Humphries-Wadsworth said.
Despite increased efforts to raise awareness in a county that has a history of people who take their own lives, there are already half as many suicides in the county as there were all of last year.
The large number this early in the year has never happened before, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.
“It doesn’t indicate a trend,” he said. “There may be no more for the rest of the year.”
Suicide experts in Wyoming attribute the state’s high rate to the small population and rural lifestyle. Middle-aged, white men are the largest demographic of men who take their own lives, Humphries-Wadsworth said. The national average is 12 suicides per 100,000 people. Park County had 12 suicides per its 30,000 people in 2012.
The top three states with the highest suicide rates in 2010 had populations of less than 1 million. None of them had more than 300 suicides. California had 3,913 suicides in 2010, but out of a population of more than 37 million, its rate ranked 40th nationally per capita.
The state of Wyoming has been active in trying to curb the high suicide rate.
In 2005 the Wyoming Legislature began appropriating money to pay for new personnel and materials to train people across the state. The Legislature appropriated money to fund 23 different behavioral health organizations overseeing each county, said Toni Cervenka, executive director of the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming. But things changed last year. The state brought in Cervenka and created the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming to oversee the whole state instead of having counties running their own programs. Now there are four suicide specialists and 55 community prevention experts working across the state to help combat the problem. The organization’s budget is only $550,000 per year, Cervenka said. The switch has saved the state money and been able to put experts on the same page statewide, she said.
The expertise of the organization is teaching communities how to spot warning signs of suicide. Humphries Wadsworth and the prevention experts in the past year have helped to train more than 3,400 teachers, bus drivers, lunch staff, students, youth leaders, police, emergency personnel, nurses and others across the state to spot behavior that tends to lead to suicide. Humphries-Wadsworth expects to have 5,000 people trained by the end of the year.
“This is the first step,” Humphries-Wadsworth said.
The state has also worked with nonprofits to raise awareness. The Prevention Management Organization worked with Grace for Two Brothers to conduct a training workshop for people in Casper at the end of the month. Nearly 40 people from around the state will come to receive training. The two have raise $14,000 for the event.
Tracy Ambrose, a community prevention professional, just trained 15 at-risk youth at Cody High School in Park County. She did the same at Northern Wyoming Community College. When the training was over she received letters from the students.
“They told me that if they hadn’t joined the group, they don’t know where they would be,” she said.