Suicide numbers highest in 20 years in Moffat County
It’s an uncomfortable topic for most, but not talking about it isn’t helping.
Suicide is a major problem in Moffat County. In 2019 alone, eight people have died by suicide, marking the highest number in 20 years. By comparison, there were two deaths by suicide in 2018.
This year alone, 5 males and 3 females have died by suicide in Moffat County.
According to Meghan Francone, Director of Open Heart Advocates, the question that needs to be asked and looked at isn’t just why, but how.
“There’s a lot of ‘whys’ when it comes to suicide here in Moffat County, but the how is very alarming,” Francone said.
The ‘how’ in the method of choice regarding suicide in Moffat County is by firearm, which happens at a rate of 77 percent over the last 20 years.
“We have to turn the coin over and look at the ‘hows’,” Francone said. “Pretty consistently over the last 15 to 20 years, the method of choice is firearm. We have access to the most lethal means here; that’s not a political statement — it just is what it is. We’re going against the trends here in Moffat County when it comes to the males nationally choosing more lethal means compared to women. That’s not the case here because women are choosing more lethal means, young and old.”
Scarily, Moffat County is also going against national trends when it comes to the age demographic for suicide, which is late teens into the early 20s with a plateau in middle age with an increase in the older population. In Moffat County, there is no age plateau for suicide, and attempts are starting at a younger age.
According to Francone, in the last three years two 14-year-olds died by suicide, while children even younger attempted to take their lives via suicide.
“We need to have appropriate conversations,” Francone said. “Not talking about suicide isn’t working. The thought of not talking about it and maybe it going away is an archaic thought process, so that needs to change.”
Moffat County – and Colorado as a whole – finds itself smack-dab in the middle of the Suicide Belt, The “suicide belt” is a region of the Western United States where the suicide rate is particularly high compared with the national average.
The belt is comprised of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
Factors into the decision to die by suicide include failing health, financial loss, mental health issues, and more.
Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have a unique “Cinderella affect” that plays a significant role in people coming to the area to die.
“It’s a beautiful area; people come here…we’ve lost individuals that vacation here,” Francone said. “People come here to take part in recreational activities and then choose to die here because of the beauty that surrounds us.”
Oftentimes though, the subject who has died by suicide in Moffat County have had drugs or alcohol involved in the decision.
In 2019, all but one of the eight suicides has had drugs or alcohol in their system.
“That’s pretty scary, honestly,” Daniel Bingham of Open Heart Advocates said. “The blood-alcohol has generally been about .25 or higher. Alcohol decreases inhibition, so they’ll consume alcohol or drugs to allow them to go ahead and push that button.”
According to Moffat County Coroner Jesse Arthurs, two deaths by suicide this year were related to health issues. Francone added that health issues in the older generation have shown to increase risk for suicide not just locally, but nationally as well, especially if there is pain involved with those health risks.
It’s a subject that seems “taboo,” according to Craig Police Department Capt. Bill Leonard, but its time the community is aware and sees people at the table ready to talk about the problem right here in their own backyard.
“We want to show the community that we’re here to address this problem and hopefully turn things around,” Leonard said. “If we had been talking about it sooner, maybe we help save a life or two. But there is no quick fix; we want the community to understand we’re all very concerned and that this is a big problem in this community.”
An issue that continues to pop up alongside suicide in Moffat County is the inability to pay attention and care for our fellow humans.
“Some of these are spontaneous; we get that,” Bingham said. “But more often than not, that person does something that’s uncharacteristic or says something that should be a red flag to someone, and we just aren’t paying attention.
“If you care about someone, ask. It’s ok to ask,” Bingham said. “We so often just let things go, and we’ve lost eight people because someone has just let it go. We can’t afford to lose another person here.”