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Wyoming has the highest per capita suicide rate in the nation. The state has one of the highest rates of gun ownership.

Posted by on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:10 PM
  • 18 Replies

Battling Suicide In A 'Gun State' Means Treading Carefully

In Wyoming, a gun is used in about three-quarters of all suicides. Nationally, guns are used about 50 percent of the time.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Wyoming has the highest per capita suicide rate in the nation. Guns are also a big part of everyday life: The state has one of the highest rates of gun ownership.

It's not hard to find someone in the state who's been directly affected by a suicide in which guns were the lethal means. BJ Ayers has not one but two of those very tragic stories, and she has turned her grief into action.

"I got involved, I guess, volunteering, or ... just learning about suicide after Brett's death. And then when Beau died in August of 2009 — he was 26 — I just really felt compelled to do something," she says.

She started a suicide prevention nonprofit called the Grace For 2 Brothers Foundation. It's named after Brett, her 19-year-old son who took his own life in 2005; and Beau, her oldest son, who killed himself in 2009. Both shot themselves.

"I can say, 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda,' or ... 'If only.' But I can't go back and do that," she says. "I think it's very important for people to realize that having that access to a firearm can be very tragic, and in our family, it was."

Suicide isn't easy to talk about. In a state like Wyoming, its connection to guns makes it even tougher.

"It's not that we want to take the gun away from the gun owner," Ayers says. "We know that we have responsible gun owners in Wyoming. Wyoming is a gun state. We're rich in that history."

But the simple fact is a gun is used in about three-quarters of all suicides in the state. Nationally, guns are used about 50 percent of the time. Yet in Wyoming, Ayers says, you have to divorce guns and suicide.

"I think gun control is at one end of a very long table, and access to lethal means is at the other end of that very long table, and I think they're two different things," she says.

Ayers says suicide prevention has to be focused on firearm safety. That is, requiring that locks be included with all gun purchases. Much of her work is also in education. She stresses to people that guns should be locked away in homes, and she teaches everyone how to talk to people who may be suicidal, and get them immediate help. She's not alone in the effort.

YouTube

A broad suicide-prevention campaign launched recently by the Wyoming Department of Health includes dramatic public service announcements. Ayers and her story are also featured prominently in a series of Web videos. She also tells her story traveling around the state as one of Wyoming's four suicide-prevention coordinators.

Ayers says the suicide problem is starting to be talked about more. And for Ayers, that talk is not just about the tough subject of access to guns. Her son Brett refused to get help when he was battling his mental illness.

"I think we have a cultural norm here in Wyoming, where, for lack of a better word, you know, 'Cowboy up ... Be tough,' " she says. "It's not OK to get help, and that's what we want to break. We want to break that stigma and realize that it's OK."

One way Grace For 2 Brothers is trying to break that stigma is through an annual suicide-prevention walk in Cheyenne. The first one in 2010 drew a crowd of a couple hundred. Next month, Ayers expects more than 700 people.

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by on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:10 PM
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NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:11 PM

This is a complex problem that needs to be addressed from a variety of areas, including mental health care.

That said, I am unsure that gun safety education will do much to prevent suicide by gun.

candlegal
by Judy on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:17 PM
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It stands to reason that if they have one of the highest rates of gun ownership that if someone want to commit suicide, that is how they would do it. 

If you take away all the guns and someone wants to commit suicide, I am betting they will still do it.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:20 PM

They most certainly would still attempt. We need to address mental health and support better in this country.

Quoting candlegal:

It stands to reason that if they have one of the highest rates of gun ownership that if someone want to commit suicide, that is how they would do it. 

If you take away all the guns and someone wants to commit suicide, I am betting they will still do it.


Neon Washable Paint

coolmommy2x
by Gold Member on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM
1 mom liked this
I am shocked...but I agree with you!

Quoting candlegal:

It stands to reason that if they have one of the highest rates of gun ownership that if someone want to commit suicide, that is how they would do it. 

If you take away all the guns and someone wants to commit suicide, I am betting they will still do it.

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UpSheRises
by Platinum Member on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:43 PM
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I used to work in suicide prevention. Guns make attempts 90% more lethal than any other means (i think, it was a long time ago). It's the gun, not the will of the individual, that is more likely to produce deadly results.


Quoting candlegal:

It stands to reason that if they have one of the highest rates of gun ownership that if someone want to commit suicide, that is how they would do it. 

If you take away all the guns and someone wants to commit suicide, I am betting they will still do it.



turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:44 PM

There is a direct correlation with the amount of suicide deaths and gun ownership.  Suicide attempts happen daily....however I believe they far outweigh the amount of actual deaths from suicide.  Take away the gun in the scenario and that number of deaths will go down dramatically

The ability to take ones life is a hard one...the will to live is hard to thwart.  Most who attempt suicide dont want to die, they are crying out for attention for someone to care about them.  

The want to die is common....but when you put a gun in their hands it is nearly always finite.  

Carpy
by Ruby Member on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:46 PM


Self-inflicted death permeates the valley, Olivia Baldock says.

Six years ago, her uncle, Brett Baldock, shot himself in the chest. Since then, her mother’s friend and a high school friend’s mom have died by suicide.

Most recently, her father, Mark Baldock, pulled the trigger to end his life June 22 at Sheep Creek. When Olivia Baldock learned the news just after Father’s Day, she thought his death was related to a terminal heart condition. She hadn’t anticipated he wanted a way out.

“It was completely unexpected,” she said. “I talked with him every single day for the last year. I never saw it coming. I had no clue.”

Her father may have become tired of his physical ailments, she says.

Others she knows took their lives after they became dependent on alcohol and drugs and drifted into a dark place from which they couldn’t re-emerge.

“I think people have a lot of financial problems, which leads people to drink,” she says. “Jackson is a hard place to live.”

The irony is that tourists and second-home owners flock here to hike lush alpine trails and ski some of the world’s best slopes. Visitors and residents revel in wonderment at the valley’s natural beauty.

Yet the paradise that is Jackson Hole could not save Mark Baldock and the dozens of others who killed themselves over the years.

So far this summer, three people in the community, including Baldock, have taken their lives.

Another swam out and then plummeted to his death over the Lower Falls in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Their motives are individual and often leave puzzlement for family, friends and counselors who struggle to make peace and move forward.

Former Teton County Sheriff’s deputy Gene Ferrin estimates he covered nearly 50 suicides during his 23 years as an investigator, supervisor and deputy coroner.

Once, while responding to a call, a man pulled the trigger right in front of him. Another time he heard the shot while just outside the door.

Both victims were facing criminal charges and perhaps jail.

“I went to a lot of them over the years,” says Ferrin, who is now a criminal investigator in El Paso County and Colorado Springs, Colo. “It’s an unfortunate part of our society.”

He wouldn’t draw conclusions or map trends about what he witnessed. Families are hurt the most because they don’t see it coming, he said. They second-guess anything they could have done to prevent what happened.

“If there is one, that’s too many,” Ferrin says.

A couple of years with five deaths – 2002 and 2006 – plus the four so far this year push the issue to the forefront in a town of only 9,000 people and county of 20,000. Certainly something is wrong here in Teton County, many want to believe.

Teton County coroner Bob Campbell counts 29 suicides in the last 10 years or an average of 2.9 per year. Statistically, that isn’t many, experts say.

Often middle-aged men

More than half of the suicide victims in Teton County are men in their 40s, 50s and 60s. All but seven in the last 10 years used firearms.

A quarter of the suicides happened north of Jackson, on the Elk Refuge Road, near Slide Lake or Sheep Creek, according to an analysis of Teton County Coroner records.

Because of the small population here and consequent low number of suicides, it is a complex task to get a reliable rate that can be compared to other towns and cities around the country.

At the National Center for Health Statistics, experts analyzing trends shorter than 10 years have listed Teton County rates as “unreliable” because the total number of suicides has been fewer than 20.

However, a News&Guide analysis of the decade from 1999 to 2008, done under the center’s guidelines, produced a figure that can be used to compare the community’s suicide rate to other areas (see box above).

Teton County’s mortality rate for suicide, following the math outlined by the center, is calculated at 13.4 per 100,000 people. That rate is 24 percent higher than the national average of 10.8 per 100,000, but it is 29 percent lower than the Wyoming average of 18.8 suicide deaths.

Western states record the most suicides, with Montana, Alaska, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado having the highest rates, in that order.

So while anecdotal evidence and clusters of suicides during a short period tend to alarm residents here, the calculated rate of death by suicide, while high, does not appear to be alarmingly excessive.

In Wyoming suicide is the second leading cause of death after unintentional injury for those ages 10-34 . It is the fourth leading cause of death for ages 35-54 after unintentional injury, heart disease and malignant neoplasms, or cancer.

Teton County’s calculated suicde rate is the second lowest statewide. Carbon County tops the list with 28.7 per 100,000 people, and Fremont came in second with 25.8.

At the lower end are Sublette and Niobrara Counties with “unreliable” rates of 11.4 and 6.1, respectively. The numbers are “unreliable” because the number of deaths used in the calculation is fewer than 20.

 

A trend in resort towns

Jackson Hole isn’t unique. Other resort towns are also known for high rates of suicide.

The Aspen, Colo., area of Pitkin County has a rate nearly double that of Teton County, Wyoming. The most recent calculated rate of suicide deaths was 30.5 per 100,000 people, compared with 16.9 for the entire state of Colorado, according to newspaper reports.

In Vail, Colo., and Eagle County, another mountain resort community, a spike in suicides has prompted a local police department to plan a public forum in August. A suicide prevention coalition is also planned to combat the rise. The county has had seven suicides through July 14, more in the first half of the year than in previous year’s total.

Mark Houser of Teton County Suicide Prevention Coalition, which started in 2003, is convinced the number of suicide-related deaths is higher than what is recorded. He knows of residents who have left town to take their lives.

Another reason for low numbers is that across the country, suicides are significantly under-reported to protect relatives or because the cause of death is unclear, he said.

Some suicides are not recorded in the home county because the person goes elsewhere and there is no formal way to track such incidents, Houser said. “So all we have are anecdotal accounts,” when another resident takes his or her life.

Those accounts are the stories that suicide impact victims like Olivia Baldock might carry with them. A father. An uncle. Or an acquaintance.

The personal scars are greater than statistics in a small community.

“It really happens everywhere,” investigator Ferrin says. “You think it’s a big problem where you are.”

 

NEXT WEEK: The factors and influences behind valley suicides, with interviews from experts and an up-close look at demographics of those who have taken their lives. 

 

Mommy_of_Riley
by Jes on Mar. 24, 2013 at 8:53 PM
1 mom liked this
Mental health.

It needs to be addressed in this country...
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lga1965
by on Mar. 24, 2013 at 9:07 PM

 welll that is one messed up state then. Suicidal and gun happy. Sounds like a whole bunch of men who are trying to be "strong" and tough and macho,right?That archaic and trite image of the strong and silent man who never admits to having feelings of fear or doubt and won't accept help...because " he doesn't need it". All he needs are his guns. Scary. Sad.

I'm glad I don't live there.

Carpy
by Ruby Member on Mar. 24, 2013 at 9:11 PM
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Well, that was pretty damn twisted.

Quoting lga1965:

 welll that is one messed up state then. Suicidal and gun happy. Sounds like a whole bunch of men who are trying to be "strong" and tough and macho,right?That archaic and trite image of the strong and silent man who never admits to having feelings of fear or doubt and won't accept help...because " he doesn't need it". All he needs are his guns. Scary. Sad.

I'm glad I don't live there.


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