Fremont County’s suicide rate soared in 2011; prevention efforts to increase

Members of the Fremont County Suicide Prevention Task Force met earlier this month at the County Courthouse in Lander.

(Lander) – A series of pro-active community events and trainings is planned this year to address Fremont County’s high rate of suicide including an alarming increase in youth suicides.

After nearly seven and one-half years without a youth suicide, aged 17 or under, three were reported during 2011. And with at least 14 total recorded suicides last year, Fremont County’s rate is three times the national average for the population here. Last year, only six suicides were reported.

At January’s Fremont County Suicide Prevention Task Force meeting in Lander, discussion centered around a series of prevention trainings and public events, inclulding at this year’s Wyoming State Winter Fair in Lander.

According to the Fremont County Coroner’s Office, there were 14 suicides with another pending case in 2011. Toxicology tests have not been received in that one case, which may or may not have been a suicide, said Coroner Ed McAuslan.

The spike in completed suicides is alarming to Task Force members, who noted that Fremont County had not reported 14 such deaths since 2007. One year earlier, in 2008, there were 18 completed suicides, which matched the county’s previous high set in 1985.

Task Force members have planned four “SafeTalk” trainings in January (Suicide Alertness For Everyone), half-day sessions that give participants the tools to learn how to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and how to connect them with local resources for assistance, said Elk Sage, the current chair of the FCSPTF. Sage directs the Planting Seeds of Hope/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention program on the Wind River Reservation.

The trainings are set for Jan. 26 and 27 at the Wind River Casino south of Riverton in the meeting rooms there. Two sessions are planned each day with each session lasting three hours.

Similar trainings will be held at area schools, including Wind River and Wyoming Indian, according to Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health’s Glenda Mitchell, who said trainings will also include the topic of school bullying, which she said is a risk factor for youth suicide. “People at risk for bullying can be anyone who is perceived to be different, said Tauna Richardson and Kelly Rees, prevention specialists at Fremont Counseling Service of Lander. “Including people with physical disabilities, mental illness, chronic illness, minorities or someone simply thought to be different.”

Fremont Counseling plans Winter Fair displays that will distribute information on suicide prevention, awareness of bullying and substance abuse prevention.

In 2011 Fremont County’s suicides were distributed across the age spectrum, according to Mark Stratmoen, Deputy Coroner. He said three deaths were reported in the 17 and under age group, two between 18 and 24, two between 25 and 44, five between 45 and 64 and two in the 65+ age group. He said the average age of last year’s suicide victim was 45+.

Kelly Rees, right, and Tauna Richardson of Fremont Counseling Service listened while Gerald Loneman of White Buffalo Recovery made a point during discussion.