‘It’s Been A Rough Year’ — Natrona County Sets Record For Suicides
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the Wyoming Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text 307-776-0610.
With a month remaining in 2021, Natrona County has set a record for suicides since the coroner's office began compiling statistics roughly a decade ago.
"I can't seem to put my finger on it," Natrona County Coroner James Whipps said. "Maybe it's just the world around us now depressing people."
As of December 1, 33 people have killed themselves in Natrona County. The previous high was 31.
In 2020, 19 people in Natrona County took their own lives — 14 lower than this year's current total.
"Last year we took a drop from normal," Whipps said. "All of a sudden this year, we blew back into it like crazy."
Britlynn Adame heads the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Like Whipps, Adame couldn't pinpoint a reason why people are taking their lives at a record rate in Natrona County.
It could be a number of factors.
"It's been a rough year," Adame said.
She continued, "It would all be theories. There's nothing set in stone as to why it's happening. COVID had something to do with it. Everything opened back and up and people didn't realize how badly they were hurting at the time.
"People weren't sure where to go."
Whipps agreed, stating that suicides went down when the COVID pandemic hit. It could have been that people were together and aware of each other. They were checking on each other.
And that may be why 2020 saw a relatively low number of suicides in Natrona County.
"Everything opened back and up and people didn't realize how badly they were hurting at the time."
"When we shut down, suicides pretty much went off the radar," Whipps said. "We did have a couple here or there.
"The minute we opened back up — the next day — they go up again."
Said Adame, "It's been such a weird year. I'm not sure what's going on in our society right now."
Kevin Hazucha serves as CEO at Central Wyoming Counselling Center and Bernice is the director of the center's Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
"Look at the world around us," Kevin Hazucha said. "There's stress with people feeling more isolated."
Trisha Clark and Katrina Ferrel sat in a room at Central Wyoming Counseling Center on Wednesday as their shift working the state's suicide lifeline phones began.
Clark and Ferrel are highly trained with more than 450 certifications ranging from LGBTQ issues and veterans' mental health to victims of crimes.
In August of last year, Wyoming's first suicide lifeline opened at CWCC. Each year, the call center fields 1,400 calls from people struggling with mental health, Kevin Hazucha said.
Both Ferrel and Clark agreed no two calls are the same.
"Our goal is to be a 24/7 call center," Kevin Hazucha said, adding that funding is the biggest obstacle to getting that set up.
Currently, the call center is open Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight.
"They can call us if they're having a difficult time," Kevin Hazucha said. "They can be calling just to find out what resources are available."
Added Bernice Hazucha, "When somebody calls, they will get a Wyoming person on the other end."
Kevin Hazucha said the biggest obstacle with people getting mental health help is often stigmatized.
"If you broke your arm, you would go to the physical therapist. You'd get surgery if you need it. There's not a stigma to that," Kevin Hazucha said. "Yet there is a stigma to mental health."
The suicide prevention task force offers suicide prevention training to a number of community organizations.
The training called Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) is offered for free to groups wishing to take the training.
Adame said the hour-long training focuses on a number of risk factors and warning sign and teaches participants how to directly ask if someone is suicidal. Persuade them not to take their lives and refer them to get the help they need.
The task force has partnered with Casper College nursing students and the Natrona County School District.
"There's a lot of organizations throughout Natrona County who have us back every single year," Adame said.
"People weren't sure where to go."
Adame said Casper Police have partnered with the task force. Whenever officers are dispatched to a suicidal subject call, officers leave a resource packet from the task force with the person.
Task force members are also working on getting the word out about resources available in Natrona County. They're doing that through billboards and other advertising methods.
"(Suicide) is something people turn a blind eye to unless it affects them personally," Adame said.
Said Bernice Hazucha, "Suicide doesn't discriminate."
What Can You Do?
The most important thing you can do to prevent suicide is simply asking the question, Kevin Hazucha said.
"You're not going to put the idea (of suicide) into someone's head who's not already thinking about it," Kevin Hazucha said. "The question should be asked: 'Are you thinking about suicide?'
"Ask the question. If you have it in your head that somebody looks really depressed, ask the question. Ask, 'Are you thinking about suicide?' Be blunt. Ask the question. Be direct."
Added Bernice Hazucha, "It may be overwhelming, but that's when you have a card or something you can say or a number in hand."
And Bernice Hazucha said, even if that person doesn't immediately respond, they will see that you were supportive and were willing to talk about it.
"You're not going to put the idea (of suicide) into someone's head who's not already thinking about it. The question should be asked: 'Are you thinking about suicide?'"
By The Numbers
Twenty-five men and eight women have taken their lives in Natrona County so far this year. As far as age groups go, suicide deaths are relatively evenly spread.
Whipps said one positive anomaly with suicides in Natrona County is veterans are taking their lives at a lower rate than the national average.
The county coroner said that people are coming into Natrona County and ending their lives. They often have community ties.
People have come from other counties. There was one from Montana, one from Arizona.
They arrive in Natrona County and on the same day or a day or two later, they take their lives.
"It's odd," Whipps said.