An Interview with Catherine Strode
One of Colorado’s long term policy goals is to be the healthiest state in the nation. The Medicaid expansion is making quality health care available to more of the state’s residents. However, one ailment often goes undiagnosed before it kills: suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
In an effort to bring awareness to this subject, Catherine Strode sat down for an interview with Sarah Brummett, the Coordinator of Colorado’s Commission on Suicide Prevention. She discussed Colorado’s rising suicide rate and the segments of the state’s population that are at high risk.
What is the trajectory of Colorado’s suicide rate?
“Our suicide rates here in Colorado have been rising since 2009. As far as comparing with other states in the nation, we’re unfortunately at the top of that list. Currently, we’re seventh in the US for suicide rates. This is certainly not where we’d like to be.. That is a characteristic shared by other states in the Rocky Mountain West. Right now, our rate per 100,000 across all ages is right around 20 per 100,000. To compare around the US, it’s 13 (per 100,000.) It’s significantly higher than the nation as a whole.”
What do we attribute to this?
“Suicide is a very complex issue and certainly there’s more than one contributing factor. We know the most common shared characteristic is that those we lose to suicide are generally struggling with a mental health issue at the time of their death. Estimates are right around 90 per cent. When you’re talking about the big factors, it would be mental health concerns, whether those are reported or diagnosed. There are other factors that play into the issue. We see from our data other things going on with someone like: a recent crisis, family discord, domestic violence, problems with substance use and abuse, problems with employment, loss of a loved one.”
Why are the suicide rates in the western states higher?
“There are several different hypotheses. It’s probably a combination of all of these. Here in the Rocky Mountain West there’s kind of that independent mentality, that ‘cowboy philosophy’: you persevere through challenges, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, rub some dirt on it and get through. Unfortunately, if you’re struggling with a mental health condition, that’s not always possible. Also here in the Rocky Mountain West, we have vast expanses of rural and frontier regions where access to resources or even your nearest neighbor can be hard to come by. People tend to be isolated. There is some research, still very much in its infancy, trying to make the link between higher altitude and the effect that might have in terms of oxygen levels and serotonin.”
What population segments are at greatest risk?
“Men are disproportionately represented in our suicide deaths that we see here in Colorado. That is also true across the nation. It is about four to one, compared to female suicide deaths. The reverse would be true for our suicide attempt data that we get from hospital admissions, emergency department discharges, and the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. When it comes to attempts, you see females over represented in the data that’s available there. We do see a disproportionate burden falling on working age white men. We see more of those suicide deaths in that demographic than would be expected based on our population makeup.”
What efforts are underway lower the suicide rate among this group?
“Man Therapy (mantherapy.org) is a years-long continuing project and collaboration between the State Office of Suicide Prevention and the Cactus marketing agency. It is an outside of the box strategy to reach men in their middle years and engage them in conversations related to supporting mental health. Research shows men are far less likely to report depression, and have a resistance to asking for help or reaching out during crisis. Man Therapy is specifically designed for what we call “double jeopardy” men – those that fully embrace traditional male stereotypes, have the highest risk for suicide, and who you couldn’t pay to go sit on a therapists couch. We finally have the funding to conduct a meaningful evaluation of Man Therapy. Partners at the University of Maryland Baltimore and Florida State University received CDC funding to evaluate Man Therapy in conjunction with Screening for Mental Health, an online screening tool. The 3-year evaluation will begin in October. Unfortunately, we won’t have meaningful results for a couple of years.”
If you or someone you know is in need of support please contact the Colorado Crisis and Support Line at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text “TALK” to 38255. To locate their nearest walk-in center go to www.coloradocrisisservices.org. Help and hope are available 24 / 7 / 365.
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.