Suicide is a rising public health dilemma in Colorado, where 1,004 residents took their own lives last year, according to the state health department.
The state’s suicide rate has jumped 19 percent in the past decade.
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.
Many of those who died in Colorado in 2013 were middle-age or older men. Their rate was roughly twice the statewide average for other residents.
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.
Suicide has a close tie with mental illness. More than 90 percent of those who take their own lives have depression or another mental disorder, or a substance abuse issue, according to one epidemiological study cited by the National Institute of Mental Health.
The state is taking steps to combat the problem, including the launch in August of the first statewide mental health crisis hotline. Mental health professionals are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to support those in crisis.
The state is also moving ahead with plans to create a network mental health crisis centers.
“We do not want to lose one more person to the tragedy of suicide, gun violence, substance abuse or mental illness,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said of the hotline. “The statewide hotline increases access to care for anyone in need and will help safeguard our residents, our families and our communities.”
The state is also moving ahead with plans to create a network of community mental health crisis centers, which had initially been stalled by a faulty bidding process.