A record number of Coloradans died by suicide last year.
Colorado’s suicide death toll in 2012 was one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the state health department.
After a steady rise in the last decade, some 1,050 people committed suicide in 2012, representing a rate of nearly 20 suicides per 100,000 people. This is an almost 16 percent increase from 2011, according to statistics released in August.
A loss of hope can be attributed to many suicides, said Catholic psychologist Kathryn Benes, director of Catholic Charities’ Regina Caeli Clinical Services in Littleton.
“The increasing divorce rate, in conjunction with financial difficulties caused by the poor economy in Colorado, has likely contributed to Colorado having one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S.,” she said. “Regardless of the particular stressor, however, the underlying cause of suicidal thoughts and attempts is the perception of hopelessness.”
While the causes of suicide are complicated, research indicates social isolation, mental illness, substance abuse, financial difficulties, loss of loved ones due to death or divorce, and major physical health problems are factors that increase the risk, Benes said.
Men account for the greatest number of suicides—at 810 of the 1,053 deaths last year—but the rate of women and children is increasing.
A few years ago, Regina Caeli counseled 10 children between 6- and 13-years-old whom contemplated or attempted suicide, Benes said.
“One little first-grader said that he couldn’t see any hope for the future. The sorrow in that little child’s heart was overwhelming,” Benes shared. “When we examined the commonalities of those 10 children, we found that the majority of them came from broken homes. Often children feel responsible for their parent’s divorce, and with the focus on the holidays, these children may become particularly aware of this stress as they shuffle from their mother’s home to their father’s household.”
In his encyclical Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stressed the importance of hope, which helps in facing the present even if arduous.
As a Catholic counselor, Benes said the focus is to help clients restore this hope.
“That hope comes from an encounter with Christ and that encounter is grounded in the Gospel,” she said. “So, as Christian therapists we have the opportunity to do as St. Francis instructed: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’”
Marriage and family counselor Gregory Creed, who is an adjunct professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, said clients can struggle to understand their suffering. But hope can be found in the Christian faith.
“Sometimes suffering just doesn’t make sense. Some people’s lives are like Job’s,” he said referring to an Old Testament book. “It’s very difficult to make sense out of it unless you look at the cross and unite suffering that way. The cross doesn’t make sense without the Resurrection, which is our hope. That kind of tapping into our Christian faith for believers can be helpful.”
Finding purpose and a reason to live also helps clients recover from being suicidal, he said. Sometimes this is achieved by thinking of those “stakeholders” in one’s life, such as family or children.
Others need to be reminded that sufferings are temporary, Creed said.
“Once they’re beyond that crisis, things will change and they’ll feel better and have hope again,” he said. “For most people things look better later. Tomorrow is a brighter day.”