Montrose County’s suicide rates so far this year have already hit the average yearly total — and victims include more younger people.
Thirteen people died by suicide in 2019; four were teens or young adults, Montrose County Coroner Dr. Thomas Canfield said.
“We run between six and 12 a year, except the past couple of years, it’s been over the 12. Nine has been our average, but it’s going up. Statistically, the young people create (issues). We’ve had four this year. A lot of them were friends of each other,” he said.
“The emotional impact on the community of adolescent suicides is greater.”
Raw numbers from some surrounding counties are also high, although in one, San Miguel County, they stand at “luckily, zero,” its coroner, Emil Sante, said.
Delta and Hinsdale county suicide stats were not immediately available. Mesa County has had 36 confirmed suicides this year; Coroner Victor Yahn said those numbers are typical for this point in the year.
Ouray County has recorded four suicides so far this year.
“It’s way above average for us. It’s really up there for us this year,” Ouray County Coroner Colleen Hollenbeck said.
All Ouray County suicide victims this year were adults, as were those who died by suicide in Gunnison County.
But in Gunnison County, five have so far died by suicide in 2019, coroner Michael Barnes said.
In all of 2018, nine Gunnison County residents died by suicide — and the victim count has soared over the past decade, compared to earlier periods.
Barnes said that 13 people in his jurisdiction fell to suicide in the entire 1960s decade; nine in the 1970s and 13 in the 1980s.
The numbers grew to 22 for the 1990s and also hit the low twenties for 2000-09. Since 2010, there have been 54 suicide victims, Barnes said.
“There is quite a significant increase from 2010 to 2019, from what we used to see in the past, especially 2016, 2017, 2018 and this year,” he said.
Although Gunnison and other Western Slope counties’ populations have increased since the 1960s, Barnes says that does not fully explain the rise in suicides.
“In these recent years, everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on, since 2016, 2017, 2018 and then 2019. Those are big years.”
Colorado ranks as having the 10th highest suicide rates in the country, Canfield said, and suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in younger adults. For males 16 - 24, suicide is the leading cause of death, although most suicides occur in men ages 45-65.
Although more females than males attempt suicide, more males are successful, because they are more likely to use firearms.
“The degree of lethality with a firearm is much higher,” Canfield said, adding that half of suicide deaths nationally are due to firearms.
In Montrose County suicide victims have also died by opiate overdoses and hangings.
Gunnison County’s suicide deaths this year have all been by gunshot — but last year, seven of the nine recorded were hangings, Barnes said.
And, although no youths have died by suicide this year in his county, all three of 2015’s suicides occurred among young people, apparently through a pact, driven by social media bullying, that shook the community, he said.
“That really hit the community hard. It might have been a wakeup call for some of these kids, as we haven’t seen that since, thank goodness,” Barnes said.
Suicide rates are affecting life expectancy averages as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canfield said.
“For years, it’s (life expectancy) been going up because of improvements in medicine and decreased numbers of child deaths. But the last couple of years, it has gone down. That’s for two reasons: Opiates and suicides,” he said.
Isolation has also been raised as a factor driving Western Slope suicides and some have even suggested the altitude, but Canfield puts no stock in the latter explanation.
Rural areas tend to have higher suicide rates than urban areas, he also said, and Southwestern Colorado counties have the highest rates, Canfield said.
“The suicide rate in Montrose is twice Denver’s rate. Why? The lack of mental health services, which is a real problem,” Canfield said.
Of Colorado’s 64 counties, 22 lack a licensed psychologist, he said. Montrose has licensed providers, but Canfield still sees people having trouble accessing care.
Barnes said resources are improving in Gunnison County. The Center for Mental Health recently opened a clinic in Crested Butte, he said, helping take down a geographic barrier — a 30 mile trip to Gunnison’s services — that might have discouraged those “in a dark place” from seeking help.
“Now that it’s in their community, people are using it. I think that’s really helping,” Barnes said.
Trainings in applied suicide intervention are available in Gunnison; these help people recognize warning signs and how to help.
“I’m just happy to see community members coming together and forming a coalition to figure out what the common threads in these cases are and what we, as a community, can do in the future to prevent these (deaths),” Barnes said.
“That’s been pretty promising.”
Canfield said the Veterans Administration is working to improve appointment availability for veterans who express suicidal ideation or depression. Veterans commit suicide at alarmingly high rates, an estimated 20 a day (nationally).
“We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than to combat,” he said.
Canfield urged anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts to seek help.
The Montrose Suicide Prevention Task Force is amping up outreach.
“We put a lot of effort into educating the kids,” Canfield, a task force member, said.
“A big thing is the fear that if you talk to somebody about suicide, you might precipitate the act. It’s the converse. Talking to somebody about it more than likely is going to help prevent it,” he said.
Suicide is tragic, Canfield said.
“Trying to provide services to the family of suicide victims is very, very difficult. It’s not easy emotionally.”
To get help
In situations of immediate risk to self or others, call 911.
The Suicide Prevention Task Force can be reached at:
• Via Facebook;
• Phone 970-901-159a5.
The Center for Mental Health 24-hour crisis line is at 970-252-6220. The state crisis line is 1-844-492-TALK (8255).
Students, parents and community members with concerns about possibly suicidal behavior or ideation among students can also call the state’s Safe2Tell hotline, 1-877-542-7233, or use the app, downloadable for iPhones and Android devices.
Suicide warning signs
When a person talks about killing himself or herself; feeling hopeless; speaks of having no reason to live; being a burden to others; feeling trapped, or of unbearable pain.
Behavior that may signal risk:
Increased drugs and alcohol; researching ways to die; withdrawing from activities; isolating themselves; too much or too little sleep; visiting or calling people to say goodbye; giving away prized possession; aggression; fatigue.
Moods of suicidal people may include: Depression, anxiety, loss of interest; irritability; humiliation/shame; agitation/anger; relief/sudden improvement
These include, but are not limited to, mental health conditions; access to weapons or drugs/medications; previous suicide attempts or family history; child abuse, neglect or trauma; and life stressors such as job loss or impending incarceration, ongoing harassment/bullying or divorce.
The above lists are not intended to be exhaustive and do not necessarily capture all warning signs and risks. Always consult mental health professionals or other experts with questions specific to your situation.
Source: American Foundation for Prevention of Suicide, afsp.org.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.