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Boulder County suicide rate highest since at least 2000
Experts cite down economy, stress as reasons for spike
By Vanessa Miller Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 07/11/2010 11:06:57 PM MDT
Boulder County's suicide rate last year was the highest it's been since at least 2000, and experts say the nation's down economy and a change in the stigma associated with reporting deaths as suicides are the reason.
The Boulder County Coroner's Office investigated 59 suicides in 2009, compared with 49 in 2008 and 45 in 2007, according to a newly released annual report. When considering the population, there was one suicide per 5,144 people last year compared with one suicide per 6,132 people in 2008 and one suicide per 6,571 people in 2007.
"It's a growing problem," said Faye Peterson, executive director of the Second Wind Fund of Boulder County, which works to prevent suicide among young people.
Peterson said that she believes, based on clients both at Second Wind and in her private practice, that the economy and stress are largely to blame for the higher rate of suicide.
"We have taught people to believe that if they work hard and play by the rules, things will work out," Peterson said. "But that's not happening. People are losing their jobs."
She said people have come to see her because they are over age 50 and have been out of work for two years and are feeling suicidal. Some of her clients are young adults who have just graduated from college and can't find work, Peterson said.
When a child's family member commits suicide, she said, the child often is considered at risk for doing the same. Peterson said more kids have been fitting the "at risk" definition and more kids have been following through and taking their own lives.
In 2008, just one person younger than age 20 committed suicide, according to the coroner's annual report. Last year three people under age 20 killed themselves, this year's report said.
Of the adults who killed themselves, 17 were married, 13 were divorced and three were widows or widowers, according to the report. This year's numbers show that 26 of the people who killed themselves were single, and June had the highest number of suicides with eight.
The age group that saw the most suicides last year was the 45-to-54 group with 16 suicides, according to the report. The most common way to commit suicide last year was by firearm, according to the report, followed by asphyxia or hanging and then prescription medication.
Jan Hittelman, a licensed psychologist who deals with suicidal clients, said that due to the negative stigma associated with suicide, some people have reported their loved one's suicide as an accidental death or medical issue. Looking at the rising numbers, Hittelman said, the stigma might be changing.
"It has been under-reported, but I wonder if that's improving," he said.
Aside from a possible rise in suicide reporting, Hittelman said, he's not surprised to see Boulder County's suicide rate going up.
"Many people don't realize that the state of Colorado has high incidents of depression, and Boulder County is a very high county even in Colorado," he said. "Why, in this beautiful state — especially Boulder County — we have these issues is a mystery."
But Hittelman also speculated that the economy is behind a rise in depression and said suicide prevention needs to be a higher priority in the county.
"Therapy and/or medication in most cases can help," he said.
In 2008, Lafayette mother Cathy Strange lost her 19-year-old daughter to suicide and thinks more needs to be done in terms of education and prevention. Had she known what to watch for and the available resources, Strange said, she might have been able to stop her daughter from overdosing on pills.
"I didn't see the signs," she said.
Strange's daughter, Rose Reitman, who graduated from Louisville's Monarch High in 2007, took her own life the following year after flunking out of Western State College of Colorado, losing a job, getting into a fight with her roommate and breaking up with her boyfriend.
She had been prescribed Lexapro, a medication used to treat depression, but she had stopped taking the pills until the day she took the whole bottle, Strange said.
The week before she committed suicide, Strange said, she and her daughter went to Alaska, and Reitman slept the entire time. Even in the airport, she was "passed out on the concourse floor," her mother said.
Strange said she should have seen it coming, and she has created the Rose Reitman memorial fund at Western State in Gunnison, where her daughter went to school for a brief time, to provide funding for counselors on campus who will work to educate and prevent suicide.