High number of 2011 suicides alarms county
Suicides committed by Mesa County residents reached a five-year high in 2011, when 44 people killed themselves, according to a new Mesa County Coroner’s Office report.
The number of suicides in Mesa County committed by residents of the county followed a mostly downward trend from 40 deaths in 2007 before jumping 37.5 percent year-over-year in 2011. The increase prompted local agencies, including the Mesa County Health Department and the coroner’s office, to announce a Mesa County Suicide Prevention Summit that will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 31 at Two Rivers Convention Center in downtown Grand Junction.
Speakers at the summit will discuss local suicide statistics and ways local agencies are trying to prevent suicide and ask for audience input on how those agencies can better reach out to prevent people from committing suicide. Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland said the county needs to reach a broader range of people than just schoolchildren with suicide prevention education. She added local organizations want to address the problem as a long-term one because they do not believe 2011 was a fluke related to a bad economy leaving people feeling hopeless.
“This problem has been going on longer than the economy has been down,” Rowland said.
Nearly 30 out of every 100,000 people in Mesa County committed suicide last year. The county’s suicide rate has long been double the national rate, according to Colorado Mesa University Psychology Professor Susan Becker, but was nearly triple the national rate of 11.1 suicides for every 100,000 United States residents in 2011. Becker, who will speak at the summit, said she hopes the event will help people address a taboo but troubling subject.
“People will think, even if the words don’t come out of their mouths, ‘Why should I care if a 48-year-old homeless man kills himself or a prison inmate kills himself?’ Any suicide impacts all of us negatively,” Becker said.
Mesa County Coroner’s Chief Deputy Coroner Kim Hollingshead said he wishes he could show people who have committed suicide the ramifications their actions have on the people they leave behind. Hollingshead said one or two out of every 10 people who commit suicide in Mesa County leave a note behind. Usually those notes say the same things, that the person is sorry and that their friends and family will be better off without them. Hollingshead said what he usually sees after a suicide are family members and friends who will grieve for months or years over that person.
“If I could show them that, maybe they would say, ‘I screwed up,’ ” Hollingshead said.
Mesa County’s suicide data for the past five years show no month is typically more common than another for people to choose suicide and the problem reaches across ages and ZIP codes.
Men are more likely than women to commit suicide in Mesa County, and gunshot wounds and hanging were the most frequent methods for completed suicides in 2011. Becker said hanging may be nearly as prevalent as self-inflicted gunshot wounds because of the price of guns versus the price of hanging materials.