Being quiet and hoping for the best can be deadly.
That’s not what we might expect in Colorado’s gorgeous mountain towns. But the ugly fact is that suicide here — here, in our state, our region, our county — is a public health crisis.
A series of stories by Colorado Mountain News Media regional reporter Lauren Glendenning that appeared in the Post Independent in recent days showed that suicide rates in Colorado far exceed the national average.
The state rate of 19.7 suicides per 100,000 residents in 2012 compares with the U.S. rate of 12.4 in 2010 (the latest years for which figures are available for Colorado and the nation).
Suicide is generally highest in the mountain West, and is alarmingly high in some resort towns. Pitkin County’s rate was 35 per 100,000 in 2011.
Garfield County recorded 11 suicides in 2013, for a rate of 19.3 per 100,000 residents.
For comparison, the U.S. homicide rate per 100,000 in 2010 was 5.3 and the traffic death rate was 10.3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So Colorado and Garfield County residents die by suicide at nearly twice the rate Americans die in traffic accidents.
It’s an important way of thinking about the crisis because we have been able to do a great deal in this country to cut traffic deaths, which are down 37 percent from their peak in the early 1970s.
Cars and roads are safer, laws are tougher on drunken driving, and governments run massive education campaigns about seat belts and impaired and distracted driving. We’ve had the will to fight the carnage.
Suicide, cloaked in secrecy and shame, is tougher to stop, probably, than car crashes. A police officer, counselor or even a close loved one can’t point a radar gun at a person and determine suicide risk.
But we aren’t powerless.
We know that suicide victims are predominantly men — nearly 80 percent. All of Garfield County’s 2013 suicides were men.
The rate is highest in the 45-64 age group.
About half of U.S. suicides are by firearm.
At least a quarter involve alcohol or other drugs — though nine of Garfield County’s 11 last year involved intoxicants and experts say the hospitality industry and resort towns encourage a party lifestyle.
Krista McClinton, regional director for Mind Springs Health, and other experts say people can combat suicide by educating themselves about warning signs (see the box below) and not being afraid to reach out.
Mind Springs Health is ramping up its mental health first aid classes — McClinton said if it makes sense for people to take CPR to potentially save lives, similar mental health training should be considered.
The big key, experts say, is breaking the silence and stigma.
“We need to be talking about mental health just as we would go to a medical doctor,” McClinton said. “It’s OK to receive help for any disease you have.”
Experts say most people considering suicide will talk about it if asked.
“When you intervene with someone, you’re giving them that chance,” Eagle-based psychologist Jill Squyres, a board member of Eagle County’s Speak Up Reach Out prevention program, told Glendenning. Usually, they are grateful.
It’s hard to seek help. It’s hard to ask someone, even someone close, if they are OK.
But keeping quiet and hoping for the best won’t cut it.