By Rick Langenberg
The news was grim, but not surprising.
With the coronavirus plague assaulting Teller and other rural areas, coupled with social isolation and economic and health blues, the annual suicide rate county-wide has taken a dramatic increase.
That’s according to report given by Teller County Coroner Kayla Daugherty before the county commissioners last week. The coroner, who began her term in Jan. 2019, stated that her office handled 157 deaths in 2020. This is a slight increase from previous years, but nothing significant. The far majority of these are attributed to natural causes, with the coronavirus epidemic playing a role in the hike.
But Daugherty conceded that the county has experienced a nearly 50 percent hike in self-inflicted deaths among these numbers, with 16 suicide cases. That compares to nine in the previous year and 12 in 2018.
“The trend is up,” admitted the coroner.
This report signaled the red alert button for the board’s vice-chairman, Dan Williams, who has dealt extensively with military veteran-related suicides and support efforts.
“It is concerning,” said Williams, regarding the latest report, in a phone interview last week. “This 50 percent increase (in annual suicide cases handled by the coroner’s office) is significant. In my view, one suicide is too many.”
As a result, he is seeking more information from the coroner and wants to review similar trends in other counties to help offset the problem, and to identify key patterns. According to Williams, the suicide rate locally among military veterans is high, with a 20 percent increase in the last year.
He said a “buddy check-up” system has been set up to offer support to area veterans, as they return to civilian life. He believes maybe this type of set-up could be expanded to other population segments of the county.
The isolation created by the pandemic has added to this problem, admitted Williams. “The pandemic has been really tough on our veterans,” said the commissioner.
According to Williams, Teller has many programs for those having problems through current government services, church groups and support organizations, such as Kiwanis. “Help is out there through the programs we have; we just need people to know what is available. We hope to have a heightened sense of awareness.”
Similar sentiments were echoed at last week’s meeting by County Assessor Colt Simmons, who praised the social services and emergency management assistance offered by the county for those dealing with tough times, especially with job losses and related issues. “Social services are doing a great job. The depression (among residents) is there.”