Skip to comments.Culture Adds to Suicide Challenges
Posted on 05/19/2006 5:42:23 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Culture adds to suicide challenges The states with the highest rates of suicide are rural states, and almost all of them are in the Mountain West.
By Jennifer Frazer email@example.com Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CASPER - Rural communities struggle with suicide, but they also possess some unique characteristics that may help them fight back.
That was one of several messages shared by speakers at the second day of the Wyoming Suicide Prevention Conference, a gathering aimed at building connections that might help erase Wyoming's dubious distinction as the state with the number one rate of suicide in the nation.
Another message: white males over 65 represent the group most likely to commit suicide in the United States, and with Wyoming and the nation poised for baby boomers' entrance into their senior years, the time to address that fact is now.
But the conference also presented evidence that Wyoming has not turned a deaf ear to the suicide problem. In addition to the formation of a new state Suicide Prevention Task Force last year and a permanent program in the Wyoming Department of Health to address suicide, a group of Casper youth shared their experience of training eighth-graders in the warning signs of suicide and what to do about them - and may have already helped save lives.
There is no doubt, however, that the Cowboy State faces a serious problem. It is rural, and it is aging.
David Litts, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, highlighted the striking gradient between rural and urban suicides.
The states with the highest rates of suicide are rural states, and almost all of them are in the Mountain West. Rural men, in particular, greatly exceed urban men's suicide rate.
Wyoming faces a particular challenge when it comes to its aging population. By 2030, the population of those 65 and over will double, said Jerry Reed, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA.
In 2003, men accounted for 85 percent of the suicides in people over 65, a rate 7.6 times higher than the female rate for the same age.
In Wyoming that year, there were 19 suicides in people over 65. All were white males.
Social factors and norms in a rural society and in general play a huge role in suicide rates, Litts said. For example, when suicide rates were first tracked during the Great Depression, they were sky-high by today's standards.
Then, when World War II began, they plummeted, as previously despondent men were put in tightly cohesive units where they all depended on one another, Litts said.
In predominantly Roman Catholic South America, where there is great stigma against suicide, suicide rates are very low, while in economically turbulent Eastern Europe and Russia, the rates are high.
The Mountain West, Litts said, tends to attract people with a socially conservative or Libertarian bent.
"They don't come here to be close to a lot of people," he said, "and they don't come here to have other people tell them what to do."
But social isolation - or rugged independence, depending on how one looks at it - is one of the leading risk factors for suicide.
"It has a certain romance about it, but it's not good for suicide prevention," Litts said.
Rural communities have many other social factors working against them.
Divorce, another risk factor for suicide, rose three times more rapidly in rural areas than most urban areas between 1970 and 1990.
In rural areas, mental illness and suicide are frequently viewed as personal failures and not diseases, so a trip to the counselor can be a badge of shame.
"Out East, it's just normal to have a therapist," Litts said. "But here, you wouldn't want to have anyone know you're seeing one."
But privacy and confidentiality are hard to come by in a tight-knit community.
"It's hard to go to a bar, a church or the psychiatrist without other people knowing it," he said.
And a "conspiracy of silence" often rules - both in denial that self-inflicted deaths are a problem, Litts said, and in silence to protect the family and victim's good name.
There are many other factors as well: the geographic distance to services; easier access to firearms, by which the majority of suicides are carried out; fewer mental health providers in rural areas; a lack of public transportation to them for those lacking a car; insufficient insurance coverage, which tends to be lowest in rural communities; and fewer school resources.
Yet rural communities also tend to contain a positive and protective resource for fighting suicide - faith communities. They provide social support and close relationships, and they frequently discourage suicide and support self-preservation.
Rural communities themselves also often provide a sense of social support and interconnectedness that is beneficial in suicide prevention.
For the senior population, actions as simple as case managers or phone services that call to check up on them can help lower the rate of suicide.
Another resource was presented Thursday by the Casper Youth Empowerment Council's Suicide Prevention Awareness Team. Five members of the team shared their two-year-old education program, which is focused on educating eighth-graders about the signs of a potential suicide and what to do about it.
Trained by local counselors, though they do not counsel themselves, several team members related stories of students pulling them aside after presentations to ask for help for a family member they were concerned about who had attempted suicide in the past.
Jenielle Lambrechd shared a story about a girl who came to her after a presentation concerned that a family member who'd attempted suicide in the past might try it again.
"There was a chance, and she took it, to talk to one of us," she said.
She connected the girl with a teacher, who made sure both the girl's family and the girl herself - who was still suffering emotionally from the attempt - got the help they needed.
Article of possible interest to you, Speedy
More proof that we white males are racist, sexist scum.
Don't worry, TR, I'm not contemplating suicide! Life is good! :)
Because they're aging, alone, and depressed?
"It may as simple as they are killing them selves because they are lonely"
From my readings of the pioneers of the 19th century (also as portrayed in Willa Cather novels), suicide or murder/suicides were also common. I'm also thinking of the murder/suicide portrayed in that terrific Western, "The Grey Fox." I think it certainly is the loneliness and isolation.
This article must have been written by a self promoting shrink. The above example of the logic throughout the article stopped me cold. South America is admittedly Roman Catholic. The parallel religious character of Russia and Eastern Europe is that it is predominately Eastern Orthodox Christian not economic turbulence. The writer could have substitued a direct reference to godless Marxism which does meet the antithesis of Christianity and is economically turbulent.
Probably right. Plus extreme libertarians may have trouble when the time comes to be dependent, as almost everyone experiences at some point in their lives. If you are militant independent, and you can no longer care for yourself due to age or health circumstances, I can see where some might prefer suicide to accepting help, especially government help. It's too bad and dead wrong in its approach, but I can understand the thinking behind it.