Rural Suicide Rates Soar

I grew up in a small town and could hardly wait to get out of it. So it makes me sad, but not that surprised, to learn that small town suicide rates double urban ones:

Rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Although imbalances between city and country have long persisted, “we weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time,” said the study’s lead author, Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University.

“The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.”

The article looks especially at Wyoming, a largely rural state that suffers from high suicide rates, where Bobbi Barrasso has made suicide prevention a mission:

“Wyoming is a beautiful state,” she told the crowd. “We have great open spaces. We are a state of small population. We care about one another. We’re resourceful, we’re resilient, we cowboy up. And of course, I’ve learned it’s those very things that have led to a high incidence of suicide in our state.”

Rural suicide arises from all the circumstances Ms. Barrasso noted and more. Despite a sleepy “Mayberry” sort of image, the realities of small-town life can take an outsize toll on the vulnerable. A combination of lower incomes, greater isolation, family issues and health problems can lead people to be consumed by day-to-day struggles, said Emily Selby-Nelson, a psychologist at Cabin Creek Health Systems, which provides health care in the rural hills of West Virginia.

“Rather than say, ‘I need help,’ they keep working and they get overwhelmed. They can start to think they are a burden on their family and lose hope.”

I’m friends with a lot of people with dreams of moving to the country, subscribing to some kind of notion of purity and simplicity. But my experience is closer to the constriction and despair showcased in the article. Everyone knowing everyone may sound appealing to city dwellers longing for a deeper sense of connection, but it can be stifling:

Stigma is not unique to rural life, but it can become more acute in places where it’s hard to disappear into anonymity… A lack of privacy can deter people from seeking treatment. “If someone’s car is there at the known psychologist’s office or mental health provider’s office, then of course others in the community know,” said Bryant Smalley, the executive director of the Rural Health Research Institute at Georgia Southern University.

I made it a point to never notice people’s cars after that being the primary surveillance technique of small town life. Many people thrive in small towns, but those who struggle face a harder path than they should.

One response to “Rural Suicide Rates Soar”

  1. Totally agree. Being under the microscope was oppressive beyond measure, especially when we did not meet the requisite appearance of the community.

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