Recently, when talking about a longtime Wyoming issue, the gender-wage gap, some state leaders were remarking the issues seems to have become passe. It’s been an issue that has been around for so long that it fails to draw the attention of lawmakers and the public anymore.
We worry that the same could be said of suicide — another perennial and disconcerting issue that seems particularly acute in Wyoming.
For years, Wyoming has led the nation in suicide per capita. Wyoming likes being first in so many things, but this is a statistic we could do without.
The challenge, of course, is what to do about suicide in Wyoming. For every case of suicide there are different circumstances, different areas of the state, different age groups and different causes, all with the same tragic result. There are so many variables that it becomes difficult to point to any one cause.
Previously, the topic of suicide in Wyoming has touched on issues such as a high rate of gun ownership and the easy access to lethal means. Then, there was study of high elevation and its effects on the brain. Some have suggested the cowboy-up attitude that may inhibit some from seeking counseling for serious mental issues. All of these seem like they could factor into Wyoming’s high suicide rate.
The danger with all these variables is that they might trick us into believing that the problem is too complex and the answers too fleeting. And yet to buy into that notion only increases the likelihood that Wyoming will continue to struggle with the topic of suicide, and it might fade into the background of other issues facing the state.
Just last week, lawmakers considered changing the law to require teachers have more training on suicide detection and prevention. This is a great step and it helps keep the topic at the forefront of those who spend a lot of time around youth.
Yet there’s also a danger in believing that this is only a problem that affects teenagers. Another concern certainly is that if the Legislature requires more training, then Wyomingites will believe the problem is well on its way to being solved.
We’d suggest the challenge of suicide is significantly more complex than requiring teachers to take a couple of courses, though. Instead, we’d argue that one of the problems of suicide is that we really don’t know as much as we probably do in order to take more action.
While it’s true there could be a lot of individual variables that contribute to any one person’s suicide, how deeply have we looked at the problem? How much do we know? Are there trends or at-risk groups that can be identified? If so, are there programs and ways to help? Is funding even available?
The issue of suicide also underscores a very important point: Mental health care and support is as important to fund as any other health concerns. As with any disease, suicide costs lives and puts a tremendous strain of families and friends. As Wyoming continues to consider how best to work with the new insurance and health care mandates, we hope leaders don’t forget the necessity of mental health care, especially since it appears it’s such a pressing need.