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Suicides reach record levels in Colorado; El Paso County highest in many years

By Matt Steiner Updated: August 20, 2013 at 8:32 am 0

The number of people who committed suicide in Colorado last year reached a record level, and the death toll in El Paso County was the highest in a decade.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 1,053 Coloradans committed suicide in 2012 - a rate of 19.7 for every 100,000 people. The number of deaths jumped nearly 16 percent from 2011.

Men accounted for the most suicides, with 810 of the deaths in 2012.

"They use more lethal methods. It's all about the means," said Janet Karnes, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Partnership of the Pikes Peak Region.

Karnes said women tend to attempt methods such as drug overdoses, which can be less immediate and often can be treated.

Karnes put together some data of her own Monday via the El Paso County Coroner's Office and determined that the county's suicide rate also rose. In 2011, the rate in El Paso County was 17.6 people per 100,000, translating to 112 deaths; last year, the rate was 21.0, with 138 deaths. The 2012 statistic was the highest in the county in the last 10 years, according to El Paso County Public Health officials.

Because of the high military population with Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases and Fort Carson, the county typically has a reputation of one with high suicide rates.

That reputation tends to be a bit misleading, however, as El Paso County is usually near the state average, Karnes said. More than 20 counties had higher suicide rates in the past decade, according to the CDPHE. And while El Paso County did record the most suicides in the state in the last three years, it also has the highest population. Statewide, only two age groups saw a slight decline in suicide from 2011 to 2012: Deaths among teens age 15 to 19 dropped from 43 to 41, and among seniors 75 and older, the number dropped from 54 to 53.

Colorado had the eighth-highest rate in the country in 2010, the most recent year for which nationwide data is available, according to the state health department.

When attempting to analyze why people commit suicide, the common practice is to point toward economics, impulsivity or a cry for help. Karnes echoed a 2013 study by the University of British Columbia and suggested that conditions in a person's life don't play as big a role as other motivations, such as feeling hopeless or experiencing unbearable pain.

The UBC study involved 120 participants who had attempted suicide over the previous three years. Professor David Klonsky told the journal of the American Association of Suicidology that the study is the first of its kind and will help with prevention.

"Different motivations require different treatments and interventions," he told the journal.

Karnes said the UBC's focus on people who have attempted suicide - rather than the typical method of studying people who lost loved ones - is revolutionary and is revealing a whole new group of motivations. She said the common line of thought is that people who commit suicide think "our family is going to be better off without us."

"If you've ever talked with people that have lost family members to suicide, there's not any truth to that," Karnes said. "It's devastating. It's just so hard on families. And it's really hard on children."

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El Paso County suicides

2012 - 138

2011 - 112

2010 - 111

2009 - 131

2008 - 106

2007 - 98

2006 - 69

2005 - 106

2004 - 121

2003 - 85

SOURCE: El Paso County Public Health and the Suicide Prevention Partnership of the Pikes Peak Region

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Resources on prevention and intervention: www.pikespeaksuicideprevention.org or by calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), where help is available 24 hours a day.

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