Suicide continues to be one of Wyoming’s most pressing public health concerns. Our numbers consistently rank near the top of the nation, and 2017, the most recent year with publicly available data, was no exception. Wyoming ranked third in the country for suicide deaths, with 26.9 for each 100,000 people who live here.
Even more concerning, Wyoming’s suicide rate has steadily climbed in the recent past, mirroring the national trend. In 2005, the rate of suicide here stood at 17.3 per 100,000. That number has risen by 10 since that time.
To put the problem in context, suicide was the seventh-leading cause of death in Wyoming in 2017. Residents here were more likely to die by their own hand then by diabetes, flu and chronic liver disease. Think of your own friends and family. Most of us know of someone – a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a co-worker, who died by suicide.
Over the years, many explanations have been offered for why our suicide rates – and the rates of all Rocky Mountain states – are so stubbornly high. There’s the isolation that many here experience, the long distances from mental health resources and support networks. Wyoming’s culture of rugged individualism has been blamed, as has the availability of guns and even the high altitude. Unfortunately, the answers aren’t simple.
Thankfully, there are people and groups who are working tirelessly here to reverse those trends. And we can all play a role in addressing this problem.
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Firstly, speak up. If you know someone who might be struggling emotionally, talk to them. Ask questions. Show support. If you need help, there are resources in our communities and online where you can go for assistance. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911. If you’re worried about someone, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “WYO” to 741-741. Both are free and available at all hours. There are also suicide prevention resources in all 23 Wyoming counties.
Second, know the warning signs that put people at higher risk of suicide. If someone is talking about being a burden to the people around them, is experiencing dramatic mood swings or impulsive behavior, if someone is withdrawing from their friends and family, it’s time to ask questions. And if someone is showing suicidal behaviors like giving away possessions, buying a weapon or saying goodbye to friends and family, seek help right away.
Finally, if you are struggling yourself with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. There are many free resources available online, over the phone or in our Wyoming communities. Know that there are people who will support you, who will offer help.
We don’t have all the answers to Wyoming’s suicide problem. But we can all be part of the solution. Yes, the statistics are concerning. But if we focus on our communities, on the people we know and love around us, we can make a difference.