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Insight & Analysis / Suicide, Depression and Colorado

Robin Williams had many happy connections to Colorado, including Mork & Mindy’s Boulder setting. But his death last week highlighted a sad connection – suicide.

Colorado has struggled with a rising suicide rate for the past decade, reaching a historic high of 19.7 suicides per 100,000 residents in 2012 when 1,053 Coloradans committed suicide. In 2010, the most recent year of national data available, Colorado had the eighth highest suicide rate in the country, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The suicide of the beloved 63-year-old entertainer also reflected the increasing rate of suicide among his age group. Nationally, suicide rates for people between the ages of 35 and 64 increased 28 percent between 1999 and 2010, reaching a rate of 17.6 suicides for every 100,000 people, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Colorado, people in that age group accounted for 41 percent of the suicides between 2008 and 2012, according to a CDPHE report. The 45- to 54-year-old age cohort committed the most suicides – 1,044 – of any age group during that time period. (See Graph 1.)

Males in Colorado are about three times as likely as females to commit suicide. Between 2008 and 2012, 3,426 males committed suicide and 1,042 females committed suicide. Nearly two of every three males who committed suicide used a firearm (56 percent.) For females, nearly half (46 percent) committed suicide by poisoning, the most frequent means.

suicide chart

Suicide rates vary by region across Colorado. Lowest rates are found in Douglas and Weld counties, while higher-than-average rates are found in northwest Colorado, Mesa County, and the central mountain counties. (See Map 1.)

suicide map

Depression is often a factor in suicide. Nearly two-thirds of the Coloradans who commit suicide were suffering from depression at the time of their deaths, according to CDPHE.

Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) data show that Coloradans between the ages of 30 and 49 reported the highest level of poor mental health at nearly 14 percent, followed by people between the ages of 19 and 29 at 12.1 percent and those between 50 and 64 at 11.5 percent.

Colorado is working to reduce depression and suicide. As part of its “Ten Winnable Battles,” Colorado’s goal is to reduce to five percent the percentage of children in ninth to 12th grade who report attempting suicide and to reduce to five percent the percentage of adults who report suffering from depression. 

Meanwhile, Colorado launched its first statewide mental health crisis hotline on August 13. People can talk to a mental health professional or counselor by calling 844-493-TALK. The Colorado Department of Human Services is partnering with Metro Crisis Services to operate the hotline.

Filed In: Community Health

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