David Dillon
Vail, CO, Colorado

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August 26, 2010
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Vail Valley Voices: Dry stats tell a tragic tale

Editor's note: This is the second part of a series about suicide. If you or anyone you know is in crisis or in danger of attempting suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Samaritan Counseling Center at 970-926-8558. If you are a survivor needing support, call Heartbeat at 970-471-1833. If you would like to become involved in or make a donation to the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Coalition of Eagle County, call Elizabeth Myers at 970-926-8558.

I was greatly surprised by the statistics I uncovered when I started this project. I never expected what I found in the more than 400 pages of data I read.

There is no real way to make a list of facts, numbers and percentages literarily gripping, so I will simply let the information speak for itself. Bear in mind that all statistics are per capita based upon percentages relative to total populations.

Also, there are probably no hard and fast conclusions to be drawn here. However, an awareness of the problem, its high risk groups, the motivations behind the act and the common triggers may help us recognize those in need. From that awareness can hopefully come support and intervention when needed.

Did you know :

• The Rocky Mountain region has the highest suicide rate of any region in the U.S. for all age groups.

• Since 1910, Colorado's suicide rates have consistently exceeded the national average by almost 40 percent.

• Colorado ranks sixth among all states in suicide rate. Of the top eight states with the highest suicide rates, six are Intermountain West states. Surprisingly, the state with the lowest suicide rate is New York.

• Suicide rates in rural and small town areas are spiking per capita as opposed to their urban counterparts. Four of the eight states with the lowest suicide rates contain a number of the country's largest urban areas - New York (Manhattan), Massachusetts (Boston), Illinois (Chicago), and California (Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego).

• More Coloradans die by suicide than by homicide, motor vehicle accidents or terminal illness, and suicide is the leading cause of death by injury in Colorado. It is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds nationally and the second for the same age group in Colorado.

• Suicide rates for very young people aged 10 to 14 have almost quadrupled since 1970.

• 57 percent of all suicides in Colorado involve the use of a firearm. States with high gun ownership have the highest rates of suicides, twice as many as states with low gun ownership. The risk of suicide is up to 10 times higher in homes with guns than without.

• 68 percent of suicide deaths in Colorado involve white males. Females ages 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide attempts not resulting in death. The male population has a much higher suicide rate than does the female population largely due to means used. Women are more likely to attempt suicide; men are more likely to succeed. Women tend to favor less reliable forms in their attempts such as drug overdoses and cutting. Men overwhelmingly favor guns with hanging-suffocation coming in well behind in second place.

• Ninety-seven percent of attempts using drugs fail, whereas firearms have a greater than 90 percent mortality rate, and more people die from firearm suicides than by all other means combined. Teen boys die from suicide four times more often than girls.

All this said, bear in mind that it is near to impossible to quantify suicide statistics. Many deaths by suicide are categorized as accidents or of indeterminate cause and most unsuccessful attempts cannot be reliably tracked. When alcohol and drugs are involved, it is even more difficult to know what was in someone's mind at the time of death.

It is reasonable to say that depression is almost always present, whether or not it was ever diagnosed. Over 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from some form of treatable depression or alcohol or drug abuse. That is what is so sad - the fact that treatment could and would have saved a life had it been sought out.

By its very definition, suicide is most often the result of hopelessness and despair. The specific stressors that lead one to the actual act of suicide can be difficult to measure individually as sometimes, the reasons are not obvious to those left behind.

However, some common motivations are clear. Generally:

• Unemployment and financial crisis. Particularly in these days of bleak economic times, the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies dire financial straits is a major contributor.

• End of a relationship or loss of a loved one.

• No access to health care for medical or psychological problems.

• Alcohol and drug abuse.

• History of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

• In older people, terminal illness, loneliness and lack of access to medical care.

• In veterans, lack of mental health treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the lack of quality, affordable health care in general.

In rural areas, Western mountain states and small towns:

• Social isolation and lack of a support system.

• No ready access or limited access to mental health, support services or programs more densely available in cities. (In regions where there is ready and free or affordable access to psychotherapy, suicide rates are up to 50 percent lower than in those without. In this regard, cities are better equipped to help those in crisis.)

• Higher male populations, more unmarried males and higher rates of unmarried or broken households.

• Ready access to firearms. This is not a Second Amendment issue; it is simply fact.

• Lack of employment opportunities, lower numbers of college graduates, lower education levels.

• Lack of tolerance and acceptance for those who are marginalized, "different," or belonging to minorities.

• What Joseph D. Yenerall of Duquesne University, in his report "Suicidal Surge in Rural Areas of the United States," terms "frontier mentality." This is the notion one is raised with that one should be rugged and self-sufficient and not ask for help. The belief that one should "man up" and just deal with one's problems silently rather than seek counseling or treatment or admit one is struggling. In rural areas and small towns, there is often a stigma of weakness and negative judgment attached to seeking help.

Youth population:

• Sexual and gender identity. Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt or die from suicide. This is intensified in rural areas and small towns where there is no support system whatsoever, no "out" adult role models to look up to, no opportunity to find or form relationships and where tolerance and acceptance are least likely. Many youth would rather end their lives than tell their parents and friends they are gay and face ridicule or rejection.

• Family turmoil, violence in the family or the alcohol or drug use of a parent.

• The breakup of a relationship.

• Academic pressures, the ability to find jobs after leaving school or the pressure to achieve.

• Lack of a positive relationship with parents or being made to feel that nothing they do is ever good enough.

• Victimization from bullying and the growing trend of cyber bullying. Social isolation and not fitting in.

Yes, I know this is dry material. But what is important is the awareness statistics can bring to one's consciousness.

If you find yourself buried under the weight of these stressors or if you see someone else struggling beneath seemingly hopeless circumstances, by all means seek help or intervene. Talking is one of the most therapeutic things you can do. See a counselor, attend a support group and open up to your loved ones.

There is nothing like communication and it helps enormously to discover that you are not alone in your feelings, you are not alone in the struggle and you are not alone in your life.

Next week: myths, taboos and warning signs.

David Dillon lives in Eagle.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 26, 2010 12:26AM Published Aug 26, 2010 12:25AM Copyright 2010 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.