Rise in Colorado suicides mirrors economic woes, experts say
The Denver Post
An unusually large number of people have killed themselves this year in several metro counties, and officials say they think the economy might be to blame.
Arapahoe County recently averaged one suicide a day over a two-week period, said Coroner Michael Dobersen.
Suicides in Arapahoe County are up from 34 through this time last year to as many as 42 so far this year. In at least a third to a half of those, the economy played a factor, Dobersen said.
“We’ve had so many over the past few weeks, it has gotten our attention,” Dobersen said. “The economy seems to be a common thread in some of them.”
One man had been out of work since October, didn’t have any prospects and was behind in his bills, Dobersen said. Another man was also running into tough financial times and it was going to cost him his marriage. Yet another man who lost his job couldn’t pay his child support.
Arapahoe County is not alone. Jefferson County is also seeing an increase in suicides, and some of those are attributed in part to the economy. But other counties, such as Denver and Douglas, report no significant increases in suicides or suicides related to foreclosures or job loss.
Jefferson County had 30 suicides in the first three months of this year compared with 23 over the same time period in 2008, said Coroner Katherine Loughrey-Stemp.
“It feels like we are getting four or five a week,” she said. “The increase goes back to probably the last quarter of last year, about the same time the economy sank.”
The nonprofit Jefferson Center for Mental Health last month started a program to provide low-cost counseling to people and families impacted by the economy.
The program offers short-term counseling for $5 per session targeted specifically at people suffering mental-health issues related to the economy, said spokeswoman Jeanne Oliver.
Calls and admissions at the Jefferson Center, which serves Jefferson, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, are up by 40 percent over a year ago “and they continue to rise,” Oliver said.
“Those numbers started climbing in late September and early October, and we can track it specifically to the economy,” she said.
The rise in suicides when the economy takes a tumble is nothing new.
Dennis Ahlburg, dean of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, has studied suicide rates during the Great Depression and the 1980s, when the economy also went south. His findings show that the suicide rate increases by 100 nationwide for every 1 percent the unemployment rate goes up.
And the numbers these days might go higher because people identify more with their jobs now than they did before and losing a job can be devastating, he said. People are losing jobs not because they are inadequate or do a poor job, he said, but because companies are shuttering by the day.
“Their response is more dramatic,” Ahlburg said. “A lot of talented people are affected, but they should not internalize that. If they lose a job, the economy is the problem. It’s not a personal failure.”
Colorado already has one of the higher suicide rates in the nation. Over the past five years, 4,012 have committed suicide in the state. A study two years ago found that the state’s rate is just over 17 deaths per 100,000 people, ranking it eighth in the country.
Jarrod Hindman, program manager for the Office of Suicide Prevention for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said men are more likely to take their lives than women. Men are also much less likely to access mental-health services, he said, for fear that if they are depressed they might lose their jobs if their employer finds out. Or if they’ve already lost their job, they don’t have access to insurance to get help anymore.
So the state is issuing grants to communities this year for people who will counsel and work with men ages 25 to 54 years old who have mental-health issues and could be potential suicide victims. That training or counseling can go to the men themselves, the women in their lives and even co-workers. Often times, Hindman said, employers don’t do enough in suicide prevention.
Denver Post researcher Barbara Hudson contributed to this report. Carlos Illescas: 303-954-1175 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To help prevent suicide
To find a suicide prevention hotline number serving your county, go to: http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/colorado-suicide-hotlines.html
Or, call 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255
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