COLORADO SPRINGS — September is national suicide prevention awareness month, and a part of the coroner's report released today was addressing suicide deaths in El Paso County.
Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County coroner, said suicide numbers in our community are some of the highest in the country.
The number of suicide deaths have been steady over the past few years, but trends have changed for active duty military, veterans and youth. Overall, the news is mixed, but suicide remains a major problem in our community.
176 people took their lives in El Paso County last year, and there were 178 suicides the year prior, so there’s been a small increase.
“Our suicide numbers are certainly the highest in Colorado, and Colorado ranks poorly for suicide rates compared to the rest of the nation, so it's not a place that we want to be,” said Dr. Kelly.
Dr. Kelly said 30% of people who died by suicide last year have known active or prior military experience, which is a 10% increase from 2020.
“It's unacceptable that our veterans and their families don't have the support that they need to weather these difficult times, particularly transitions home or as they get older in life,” said Dr. Kelly.
He also mentioned the numbers could represent a true increase in veterans taking their lives, or a better job of his office identifying active duty and veterans. Regardless, the numbers are alarming and need to be addressed, he said.
“It doesn't really matter because 30% of suicides is too much in our veteran community,” said Dr. Kelly.
Youth suicides have decreased from 15 in 2020, to four in 2021, and year to date in 2022, there have been two youth suicides.
“That's been something that's been a challenge in this community for some time, and so if we stay on pace with where we are, we'll have one of the best years in the history of El Paso county, certainly in my time here, in where we are with teen suicides,” said Dr. Kely.
Dr. Kelly said it's a direct reflection of the efforts taken by the community, parents, kids, schools, public health in addressing the issue.
Cassandra Walton is the executive director with Pikes Peak suicide prevention and she said part of the effort is identifying different suicide prevention strategies for different populations.
“Like implementing gatekeeper trainings, using appropriate language when talking about suicide, and having our community engage in safe storage,” said Walton.
For active duty military and veterans, she says they need to do a better job of outreach.
“With that population, what we have a good understanding of, is that there is a need for a decrease of stigma regarding accessing health, and talking about this out loud so that we can get early intervention into place to reduce those deaths.”
The race against suicide is also happening this Sunday, September 18th. It's one of the biggest local demonstrations of suicide prevention and awareness. More than 500 people in the community will honor those who are surviving losses of suicide, and work to increase awareness about suicide.
The average age of death by suicide is 44 years old. 3/4 of the time, drugs and alcohol were present at the time of death.
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