Is Colorado's gun culture responsible for state's awful new suicide record?
Update: On August 19, we noted that suicide statistics in Colorado had set an awful new record, with the rate registering its highest number ever; see our previous coverage below.
Photos and video below.
Drilling down with the help of Jarrod Hindman, the state's director of suicide prevention, reveals details behind the dire news. For instance, guns are used in about half of Colorado suicides, with men much more likely to choose this method. Does that suggest our gun culture is partly to blame for the stat rise?
Hindman can't definitively pin the increase on our state's love affair with guns or any other single factor. But he does point to a couple of important things to consider.
"If you look at the states with the highest suicide rates, all of them are here in the Rocky Mountain West, from Montana all the way to New Mexico," he allows.
Why? "Geography is part of it," he believes. "These states have pretty vast, rural geography, and what typically comes with that is a shortage of mental-health providers and services.
"Another theory about the Western U.S. is that we really embrace the mentality of rugged individualism," he continues. "That can be great in many instances. But when you're talking about suicide and mental health, you can't just bootstrap your way through it. This notion that you solve your problems on your own and don't ask for help gets in the way sometimes, particularly for the demographic that's most likely to commit suicide" -- working-age men between the ages of 25 and 64.
That's borne out by the previously released CDPHE suicide figures, which showed a rate of 19.7 "completed suicides" per 100,000 people -- a 15.8 percent increase since 2011. Of the 1,053 people who took their own lives in Colorado last year, 810 of them were men. And they definitely gravitated toward two methods.
"Usually around 50 percent of our suicide deaths are firearms-related," Hindman reports, "and males tend to use firearms or suffocation in their suicide events."
Are Colorado gun owners likelier than others to commit suicide? In addressing that question, Hindman cites a 2008 Harvard study that sought to link gun ownership to suicide rates. Although researchers found there was a definite correlation, Hindman says "Colorado wasn't in the top third of those states. It was in the second third -- so certainly a culture in the top half of firearm ownership. And that plays into it."
Mental health resources are also key, Hindman feels. "In this year's budget, $18 million was set aside for mental health crisis service, and that's a good change," he says. "We're implementing those changes now, trying to close the gap between folks who need services and those who provide those services. But I would argue that if every single Coloradan had access to quality mental-health services, there's a percentage of the population that wouldn't access them. That's why we have to work on both ends of things -- increasing access to services and getting people to think about their own wellness and recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, they're one and the same."
ManTherapy.org, a website that uses humor in an effort to reach men who may be reluctant to seek help from other, more traditional sources, is a focus of Colorado's outreach efforts. The site, featured in our original coverage below, has attracted 285,000 visitors over its first year of operation from Colorado and all over the world. Yet whether it's achieving the goal of directing suicidal males to assistance before they can harm themselves remains unclear. "We just need more data," Hindman concedes. "It will take time to learn if men are seeking mental health or primary care services more than they have been, and to see if it has any impact on the suicide rates. But we're building in tools to try to figure that out."
Meanwhile, news of increasing suicide rates can be problematic for those who are already vulnerable. With that in mind, Hindman encourages "anyone who's in a crisis, or anyone who's worried about someone" to dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
"Our biggest message," he adds, "is, 'There's hope and there's help.' It's just a matter of making the connections and getting people linked to life-saving resources."
Continue for our previous coverage about Colorado's record-setting suicide rates, including photos and a ManTherapy.org video.