A new report finds that, 10 years later, efforts to reduce Colorado’s historically high suicide rate have notched some gains but the state still ranks ninth nationally in the number of suicides per capita.
The bittersweet news has hardened the resolve to show suicide is preventable, educate caregivers and train community volunteers to be the eyes and ears in the field for professionals, mental-health officials say.
“It’s important for people to know that there is help available right now for family members or people who are actually thinking about suicide,” said Tom Bonde, vice president of clinical services for the Southwest Colorado Mental Health Center. “Our crisis counselors are the first line of defense and are available around the clock every day of the year.”
Nationally, 11 people per 100,000 population take their own life annually. The state-wide rate currently is 15.7. It was 17 in La Plata County from 1999 to 2007, down from a rate of 20.9 annually from 1990 to 1998. Most neighboring counties had higher annual rates from 1999 to 2007: Archuleta, 26.5; Dolores, 36.7; Montezuma, 23.7; and San Juan, 29.1. San Miguel was the third-lowest of Colorado’s 64 counties with a rate of 7.7.
The report released last week recaps milestones in corralling the suicide rate – the release in 1998 of a state suicide prevention and intervention plan, the creation in 2000 of the state Office of Suicide Prevention and, last year, the setting of strategic goals for creating partnerships, increasing knowledge and changing attitudes about suicide and equalizing access to mental-health care.
Mental Health America of Colorado and Heartland Network for Social Research, with the financial support of The Colorado Trust, did the analysis.
Among the latest statistics:
•Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults.
•More Coloradans – 805 – take their own life annually than die in motor vehicle accidents or from diabetes, breast cancer or pneumonia.
•The state’s average annual suicide rate has declined 6.5 percent from 1998, to 15.7 deaths per 100,000 population, but remains well above the national average of 11 deaths per 100,000 residents.
•Military veterans, older people – particularly men older than 75 – and members of sexual minorities are at particularly high risk for suicide.
•State per-capita spending on mental health annually is $74, compared to the national average of $100.
On the bright side, the report said, the state enters its second decade of suicide-prevention efforts with a major asset: a growing infrastructure of collaborative, community-based suicide-prevention programs and services. Among them:
•The Piñon Project, a family resources center in Cortez, offers suicide prevention by making the community aware of its service, writing a training manual for providers and training advocates. The center is funded by state and federal grants, foundations and community contributions.
•The Southern Ute Community Action Programs sponsors public-education programs and trains gatekeepers – volunteers who can spot telltale signs of distress and find help for suicidal people. But the effort has lacked consistency, said program developer Peter Tregillus.
“But we’ve just received a three-year grant of $11,997 from the state Office of Suicide Prevention for public education and intervention-skills training,” Tregillus said. “This time, the grant will allow us to have a mechanism for follow-up and evaluation.”
Training sessions are scheduled to start in January, but no dates have been set, Tregillus said.
•The Southwest Colorado Mental Health Center fields an average of a half-dozen calls a day.
“All callers aren’t suicidal, but the majority are depressed,” Bonde said. “If people who are depressed or contemplating suicide can be persuaded to talk, the battle is half won. We can help them navigate to find reasonable solutions.”
Jarrod Hindman, director of the state Office of Suicide Prevention, said his agency’s goal now is to bring consistency and similarity to suicide-prevention efforts around the state.
Jacy Conradt, community relations manager for Mental Health America of Colorado, is looking for a coordinated approach to suicide prevention.
“We’ll be doing follow-up starting around the end of January,” Conradt said. “We want suicide-prevention programs to stay connected with each other and with us.”