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Suicide rate prompts WY lawmakers to invest in mental health care / Public 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 lawmakers prioritizes $10 million for investments in mental health care for K-12 students.

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

“The challenges they face – not just with peer pressure, but with world events, local events and bullying – have really brought us to a point where we are unfortunately seeing an increase in suicides,” he said.

Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in Wyoming, but it is the second leading cause of death for residents between the ages 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, call 9-8-8 or text WYO to 741-741.

More than 20% of high school students seriously considered suicide in 2021, and nearly one in 10 attempted suicide. 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 the lifeline has responded to more than 15,000 calls from Wyomingites since August 2022.

“And only 2% of them needed an increase to the next level, specifically ambulance or law enforcement, etc. So it’s working, the challenge for us and me is to make sure it’s funded on a permanent basis,” Conrad said.

Stigma has long been a barrier for people struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Conrad believes that the prevailing sentiment that individuals need to ‘man up’ or ‘cowboy up’ needs to change.

“But you know what, I think manning up and cowboying up comes down to reaching out a hand of friendship to that person who seems a little distant – whether you like him or not – but someone who sees you dropping out, and you extends his hand and says: ‘How is that possible?’ Can I help?’ Conrad said.

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