Seeing the Round Corners

November 12, 2018


Suicides have returned to the forefront of the news cycle with two recent ones of teens in the Golden area of Colorado.

The issue is one that brings to mind a 2005 column from the archives of  this writer on the subject that deserves new and updated information which will appear in the very near future.

The July/August 2005 report by the Department of Human Services to the Gilpin County Board of Commissioners provided a very disturbing statistic.

Gilpin County residents have the third highest rate of suicide in the state of Colorado with five completed suicides this year – 3 of those by persons under 21 years of age!

The Institute of Geriatric Psychiatry at Cornell University provided an even more overwhelming statistic. “The elderly have the highest rate of suicide in the United States – nearly 50% greater than the national rate of 11 per 100,000 people.

Suicides on American Indian reservations are occurring at epidemic rates.

A four-letter word, L-O-S-S, is the most frequent reason experts give as the reason for suicide, and loss can come in many forms.

Do local citizens in rural areas realize the loss they face as newcomers arrive in search of a more laid back, relaxed lifestyle? In many areas of the country today, the arrival of wealthy urban dwellers means a loss of local control for traditionally rural communities. As the number of farmers and ranchers decline, rural communities experience a loss of that political voice – a political voice that is in stark conflict with that of urban dwellers arriving in rural America.

Farms that have been in families for generations are being lost to urban sprawl, both commercial and residential. Farmers have a high suicide rate, one brought on by a sense of loss when they can no longer continue the livelihood and way of life the family farm has provided for generations.  Farmers suffer from a whole different set of reasons for contemplating suicide.  In many cases, the generation-after-generation farmer is almost a calling, but yet they have so little control over their own lives. From the weather to market prices to policies controlling those prices, the farmer suffers a loss of control from all directions.

Even having grown up on a farm, it is still difficult to explain the almost spiritual relationship a farmer has with his farm, and especially one that has been in the family for generations. Failing to succeed on the farm can destroy the very will that has kept the farmer going year after year.

When failure can no longer be staved off and loss of the farm is inevitable, statistics from suicide prevention organizations show that farmers are most likely to commit suicide in the days just before a foreclosure sale.

Research also revealed mental health services such as suicide prevention are seldom adequate in most rural communities, and yes, the stigma of seeking such help is another reason proud farmers do not seek such help, but many also do not recognize just how seriously they need help.

On American Indian reservations, health care of any kind is minimal.  There are 4.1 million American Indians on reservations and they have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in the United States. The average life span of an American Indian male on the reservation is 57 years. A new type of epidemic is spreading on the reservation – that of suicide.

On the Cheyenne River Reservation in North Central South Dakota, 17 American Indian teenagers committed suicide in 2002-2003, and those are just the ones reported. The stigma of suicide is ever present on reservations.  On some reservations, there is a four-month waiting list for mental health care, if it exists at all.

As with the American farmer, the sense of hopelessness and loss of the Indian way of life has resulted in suicide being the second leading cause of death for the American Indian and Alaska Native age 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the 2000 United States Census.

Suicide prevention on Indian reservations involves somewhat different aspects than in other areas of America. The Indian Health Service emphasizes that culture, ethnicity, tradition and religious beliefs must be incorporated into suicide prevention efforts – tribal values and rituals play a huge role in preventing suicide.

The isolation of many reservations also increases the difficulty of preventing suicides. Telemedicine is now becoming available to more tribes.  Videoconferencing, the Internet and other such technologies are making telemental health services available to remote areas of reservations and have been used in Alaska for several years. Alaska has had the highest rate of suicide in the United States – 84.1 per 100,000 in 1999-2002, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The Colorado Department of Health’s Office of Suicide Prevention gives the warning signs of impending suicide:

Signs of depression


Loss of sleep or excessive sleep

Loss of appetite or overeating

Noticeable change in behavior

Alcohol or drug abuse

Decline in performance or work, school or other activities

Reckless behavior

Giving away favorite possessions

Purchase of guns or pills

Sudden happiness after prolonged depression

Preoccupation with death and dying

Withdrawal from friends or family

Statements like “you won’t have to worry about me anymore” and

Threats of suicide

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is an organization “dedicated to the eradication of mental illness and to the improvement of life of all whose lives are affected by these diseases.” 

For help, the Colorado Helpline is 888-566-6264; the National Helpline is 800-950-6264.

The local mental health emergency number for Jefferson, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties is 303 425-0300.

The mission of Seeing the Round Corners is to evoke a thought process and interest in the reader becoming better informed and being skeptical of the headline-grabbing purveyors of information. The writer is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at