Veterans And Active-Duty Service Members Make Up 20% Of All Suicides In Colorado, But They’re Still Reluctant To Seek Help

August 30, 2019
Old Veterans Affairs Department hospital in DenverOld Veterans Affairs Department hospital in DenverDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press
The exterior of the Veterans Affairs Department hospital is shown in east Denver.

Colorado’s suicide rate is already one of the highest in the country, and research shows veterans are even more likely to die by suicide than non-veterans in the state. 

“The deaths by suicide from 2004 to 2017 in Colorado, there were about 13,000 of them, which is a mind-boggling statistic. Nearly 2,600 of them were veterans or active duty service members,” said Karam Ahmad, a policy analyst with the institute, who also wrote the report for Colorado Health Institute

“Suicide is a major public health problem nationally. Here in Colorado, it’s a major public health problem. We ranked 10th worst in the country,” Ahmad said.

Nearly 200 Colorado veterans kill themselves every year, according to the report. The number of veteran suicides in the state has been increasing since 2004. It went from 44 suicides per 100,000 that year to 52 by 2017.

Ahmad said the institute looked at the Eastern Plains because veterans living in rural areas are at a 20 percent higher risk to die by suicide than those who live in urban places. Researchers found the biggest barrier to seeking mental health or counseling services wasn’t because of cost or lack of health insurance, but rather stigma. 

“The majority of veterans that say they can't get the mental health services that they need report that it's really stigma on this issue of not feeling comfortable to approach the healthcare system for one reason or the other,” Ahmad said. 

Some veterans in Brush, a small city east of Fort Morgan, generally told researchers that military culture can make it difficult to express emotion, but reasons varied from person to person. 

Ahmad said creating a community or coalitions, like Qualified Listeners in Frederick, where people feel comfortable asking for help is key.