Colorado’s suicide rate consistently tops the national average. In 2011, the state had the ninth highest suicide rate in the nation, according to the latest available Centers for Disease Control data.
And the rate is going up, an increase of about 19 percent over the past decade. The state health department reports that 1,004 Colorado residents took their own lives last year.
This public health dilemma came into sharp focus last month with the apparent suicide of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams. His self-acknowledged struggles with depression and addiction are precursors closely identified with suicide.
Many of those who died in Colorado in 2013 were, like Williams, middle-aged and older men. The suicide rate among that was roughly twice the statewide average.
People who study the trends say the nature of suicide makes it hard to pin down a reason that Coloradans experience more than their fair share of this tragedy.
But some of the worst states in the country for suicide—which also include Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico—share common traits, notes Jarrod Hindman, who runs the state’s Office of Suicide Prevention. They’re places with large stretches of unpopulated land, where geography can isolate people from neighbors and social ties.
Colorado’s ethos of rugged individualism may also be partly to blame, says Hindman, for its insistence on “picking ourselves up by our boot straps” instead of asking for help.
“Those can be great social norms,” says Hindman, “but not if you have a brain disorder.”
In its investigative series, “Untreated: How Ignoring Mental Illness Costs Us All,” Rocky Mountain PBS I-News reported that the state’s disjointed and underfunded system of mental health care leaves many suffering from depression and other mental illnesses without adequate care – even if they want it.