Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Medicaid cuts blamed for increase in suicides in rural West; rugged lifestyle also a factor

Suicide is increasing in rural America, mostly in Western states like Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico, and mental-health professionals say it's a direct result of Medicaid cuts, the recession and the culture of the West, Alan Farnham of ABC News reports. According to a 2009 report by the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, someone commits suicide every 35 hours in the state. The report says suicide is a "major public health issue," and has a devastating effect on families, churches, businesses and schools.

Suicide rates have always been high in rural places, but the most recent national data shows suicide is the second leading cause of death among Idahoans aged 15 to 34. The state ranks sixth on a list of number of suicides per 100,000 people. The top five, in order, are Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Nevada. Co-chairman of the Suicide Prevention Council, Kathie Garrett, told Farnham the recent struggle with poor economy and unemployment put a lot of stress on people, and to save money, they would skip doctor visits as well as cut back on taking medication. She added Medicaid cuts have reduced the number of mental-health services available, including the closure of mental-health offices, which has a big impact on a state like Idaho, where the closest therapist in some cases is 160 miles away.

Kim Kane, executive director of Idaho's Suicide Prevention Action Network, told Farnham the prevalence of guns in Western states is also a factor in high suicide rates. Last year, 63 percent of Idaho suicides involved a gun; the national average of gun-related suicides is 50 percent. Both she and Garrett told Farnham "the West's pride in rugged individualism can prevent people from seeking help," he reports. Kane said people feel like they should be able to "pull themselves up by their mental bootstraps." Idaho is the only state that does not have a suicide prevention hotline. (Read more)

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