Wyoming leads the nation in a few things – we have the lowest population, and we produce most of the country’s thermal coal. We also have the highest rate of suicide. There are about 28 suicides for every 100,000 residents. And recently, the state dealt a massive cut to suicide prevention funding. That decision has left the lives of some of Wyoming’s most vulnerable without potentially life-saving resources.
The Wyoming Health Department allocates $5.7 million for suicide and substance abuse prevention, and lawmakers voted in the 2017 legislative budget session to reduce that by over $2 million. In the face of the shortfall, the health department chose to prioritize the funding for substance abuse prevention. And in a state that consistently ranks in the top five for number of suicide deaths, those resources were desperately needed.
Luckily for the state, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming and its 49 parishes across Wyoming have stepped up. The diocese pledged $100,000 for suicide prevention in the absence of state resources. But it’s a one-time gift. And it shouldn’t have been needed in the first place. Lawmakers need to find the money to reinstate that funding to the health department in the upcoming budget session. Wyoming lives are at stake.
For every suicide, it’s estimated that 115 people are affected. And in 2016, there were 130 suicides in Wyoming. That means nearly 15,000 Wyomingites have been touched by suicide since 2016 alone. The ripple of suicide is far-reaching. Its effect on the people in its wake is profound. And it is the responsibility of the Wyoming Legislature to provide funding for its prevention.
We understand that funding cuts are necessary right now. The state coffers aren’t as flush as they were pre-bust. But life-saving funding shouldn’t have ever been on the chopping block.
The moral obligation on behalf of the state to prevent suicide speaks for itself – a society broken by grief is not a healthy one. But the financial obligations are particularly onerous. The state of Wyoming spends roughly $17,000 per student annually on education. And when that life ends, the state receives zero return on its investment. It’s a harsh reality, but the fact remains, Wyoming can’t afford to keep losing its citizens to suicide.
The burden of saving Wyoming’s residents shouldn’t be shouldered by the nonprofit sector. After all, it’s the state’s responsibility to take care of its people. We need to ensure that Wyoming’s mentally ill have access to life-saving resources. Each suicide is the loss of untapped potential. It’s thousands of Wyomingites left to bear the weight of that grief. Suicide prevention pays for itself, and lawmakers need to make it a priority.