Erasing Stigma Saves Lives

In Wyoming, we’ve got plenty to be proud of: resourceful and resilient communities, breathtaking landscapes populated by unique wildlife, plenty of fresh air, clean water, and more. The Cowboy State, however, also claims a truly heartbreaking status: the highest rate of suicides in the nation. According to a recent Cowboy State Daily article, Wyoming’s frequency of suicides is over twice the national average. 

This is a crisis. And it is preventable. Increasing access to mental health resources, in addition to eroding the stigma that surrounds asking for help, is the solution to this life-shattering epidemic. A stunning new multi-part documentary series — A State of Mind: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis — has premiered on Wyoming PBS. This insightful and powerful series seeks to explore a variety of perspectives on the complicated and serious need for more robust mental health care across the state. 

The first episode, available to view here, delves into how some facets of the “Cowboy Code” has historically perpetuated stigma around seeking mental health support. “I think people are reluctant to seek help because they're scared to admit that there's something wrong. They think you're a crazy person. You're looked at as you can't handle it. And it would be an admission of weakness,” the opening quotes of the episode explain.  “You were taught to just kind of keep your feelings to yourself. If you needed to go and talk to someone, you would do it in private.”

This documentary, premiering during Mental Health Awareness Month, is a compelling and impactful showcase of the variety of ways that individuals across Wyoming are impacted by this crisis. 

“Part of the cowboy culture is ride for the brand. And I think we need to take that and apply our mental health needs to that theory. That mantra, it references loyalty. We have loyalty to each other. We have loyalty to our state loyalty to our family members. And I think that if we're going to maintain that, that means that we carry that loyalty into all areas of need,” reflects Aimee Foster VP of Behavioral Health for VOA Northern Rockies.  “If that means that my community member, my family member needs behavioral health services, that's okay. It's a demonstration of loyalty to help and encourage them, get the services that they need.”

“Kind of bring down that idea, that individual self-reliance type of Wyoming person does not mean you can fix this by yourself. It's actually what we want you to do is couple that individual idea with your community idea and your community is there to help you and support you,” adds Andrea Summerville, Executive Director of Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers. “So we have to educate and we have to do that education on both sides. Not only do we want to educate people that it's okay to go get it, but we need to educate and work with employers and businesses in Wyoming. And we've seen some great enthusiasm from leading businesses and employers in Wyoming that want to make sure their employees know, no, we support this. This is absolutely okay for you to be not okay for whatever is going on. And we want you to go get help.”

Watch the first episode here, and stay tuned for the next episodes coming soon!