Note pad on a table with numerous descriptive words about mental health next to a cup of coffee

Suicide rate prompts Wyoming lawmakers to invest in mental health services

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Eric Galatas

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(Wyoming News Service) Wyoming's suicide rate ranks first in the nation, according to the most recent data, and state lawmakers are taking steps to improve access to mental health care. The state budget recently passed by legislators prioritized ten million dollars for investments in mental health for K-12 students.

Representative Jon Conrad, R-Evanston, was also able to earmark nearly $11 million for the Wyoming 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Conrad said children are more vulnerable now than ever before.

PROMO Health - 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline - Navy Blue Horizontal

"The challenges that they face - with not only peer pressure, but world events, local events, bullying - have really led us to a point where we are seeing an increase in suicides, unfortunately," he said.

Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in Wyoming, but it's the second leading cause of death for residents between the age of 10 and 44. Nationally, more than 49,000 people died by suicide in 2022. That's one death every 11 minutes. The Biden administration recently launched a new national suicide prevention plan to address what it calls an urgent and growing public health crisis.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 9-8-8, or text W-Y-O to 741-741.

More than 20 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide in 2021, and nearly one in ten tried to take their own lives. Conrad was unable to secure $40 million in this year's budget for the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, enough to permanently fund the program. Conrad says since August of 2022, the lifeline has answered more than 15,000 calls from Wyomingites.

"And only 2 percent of those required elevation to the next level, specifically ambulance, or law enforcement, etc. So it is working, the challenge for us and me is to get it to be permanently funded," Conrad said.

Stigma has long been a barrier for people struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety disorders, and other mental-health challenges. Conrad believes the prevailing sentiment that individuals should "man up" or "cowboy up" needs to change.

"But you know what, I think manning up and cowboying up is reaching out a hand of fellowship to that person that seems a little distant - whether you like him or not - but someone you see disengaging, and reaching out and saying, 'How can I help?' " Conrad said.