From: The Denver Post
When Aspen Times columnist Roger Marolt wrote bleakly last spring on the current whereabouts of his Aspen High School classmates — namely, that out of the nearly 100 students in his Class of 1980, as many as eight have committed suicide — he speculated about an oft-expressed hunch in Colorado's resort communities that "if you can't be happy here, there's no hope."
No one might ever know exactly why Stewart Oksenhorn, 50, chose to end his life on Sunday by jumping off the pedestrian bridge connecting Buttermilk Mountain and the Aspen Recreation Center. By all accounts, Oksenhorn, 50, had carved out the career of his dreams: He wrote for two decades for The Aspen Times on the area's thriving arts and entertainment community, regularly celebrating the artists, writers, musicians and actors who played, sang, read, wrote, created and danced for and on the area's various stages.
In addition to his eloquence, Oksenhorn was also renowned as a doting dad to his 14-year-old daughter as well as for his staunch devotion to the Denver Nuggets and Grateful Dead — not to mention his irrepressible half-grin while cruising around town on his bike.
Oksenhorn's suicide bolsters the grim statistics that have long plagued the Centennial State, with mountain towns often hit hardest. Pitkin County's suicide rates are regularly twice as high as other counties in Colorado and three times that of the national average. La Plata County's suicide rate is also three times the national average. Summit and Eagle counties see more suicides than much of the rest of the country, as well.
Jarrod Hindman, director of the Office of Suicide Prevention for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is aware of the theory that people gravitate to places like Aspen, Durango and Vail with the assumption that the majestic scenery, relaxed lifestyle and abundant recreational opportunities are superior to those available most anywhere else — and that life can be doubly troubling if they still don't find themselves more content as a result.
But Hindman says it's rarely just one event that triggers deadly thoughts and behaviors. In places like Colorado, where the spaces are wide open, the nuances can be even denser. "Often we embrace the notion of rugged individualism in the western United States," Hindman said. "It's a mentality that's not unusual out here. You're supposed to pick yourself up by your bootstraps in most every situation, which for many things is great. But if you have a brain disorder or are in the midst of a crisis, it's not helpful."
The vast rural geography in places like Colorado often means there's limited access to mental health and crisis services. Plus, Hindman says those in pastoral areas living with depression, mental illness or substance abuse problems aren't as inclined to reach out for support services.
Adult males are less likely to access mental health services than women, and men account for the greatest number of suicides in Colorado. Also, states with high suicide rates directly correlate to states with high gun ownership. Take all that into account and it's not hard to believe that self-inflicted deaths are greater in the West than almost everywhere else.
More help has become available in the past few years across the state, including the Aspen Hope Center, SpeakUp Reach Out in the Eagle Valley, and the Summit County Suicide Prevention Coalition. However, the fact remains that there were more suicides in Colorado in 2012 than any other year in history, according to the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention.
"Being sad is the cardinal sin of mountain-resort living," Marolt wrote. Couple that with a state that has a tremendous amount of beautiful but remote areas without ample mental health resources, then perhaps it's not hard to see how so many who seem to have so much, like Oksenhorn, continue to fall prey to a tragic demise of their own doing.