|THE JOYFUL NOISE
Recently a young man drove out to the Grey Rocks reservoir near Wheatland one evening and parked his pickup truck at an overlook. He sat there quietly staring into the night. One can only imagine what Jonathan Brown was thinking or feeling. What would bring him to raise a firearm to his head and pull the trigger? What personal crisis was so bad that he would end his life after only 20years? Everyone has been asking the same question. Why? None of his coworkers at Drube’s Hardware understood it. He was cheerful and always telling jokes at work. He didn’t seem disturbed at all. The employees were all confused and shocked, wondering, “Why didn’t he say something? Why didn’t he share his feelings?”
I felt the heartache too, even though I did not know him personally. I had met him when I was buying something for the parsonage.
Searching for my own answers, I decided to read about suicide in Wyoming and in my journalistic curiosity, I discovered what I’m sharing here. Last year 144 Wyomingites came to the same conclusion, that violence aimed at themselves was the answer to their problems. Eighty percent of these deaths were men. Seeing no other way to face their personal issues, they brought themselves to an end, 70% with the use of firearms. If you aren’t alarmed by the information let me put it into perspective. So far this year Wyoming has the third highest suicide rate in the country, behind only Montana (#1) and Alaska (#2). According to World Atlas Online, eight of the top ten states for suicide are Rocky Mountain states. Guns are responsible for the largest share of suicide deaths because they are so lethal. Wyoming has the most successful suicide rate by firearms of any state over the last 15 years according to a 538.com feature. (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/suicide -in-wyoming).
In looking for explanations as to why these states have higher suicide rates I found some useful information. Researchers suggest there are many reasons and the Wyoming wind was not one of them. The four most notable reasons for the high suicide rate are: The isolated life of rural living, ready access to lethal weapons, and the lack of adequate medical and mental health support. The fourth factor mentioned, was the values cultivated by a culture of self-reliance and rugged individualism. Self-reliance helps people thrive in a landscape that’s big and tough but can also put them at risk if they get into a personal crisis because self-reliant people don’t ask for help or talk about their feelings. Jonathan certainly fit into this category. When asked, Jonathan refused to talk about his problems with those closest to him, instead he went it alone. Like in the western movies, western men are taught to believe that toughness is a landmark of their identity and to show vulnerability, or weakness, means they are flawed.
No one had any idea Jonathan was having trouble because a real man doesn’t talk about his feelings. A real man “cowboys up.” A real man or woman dares not talk about the hurt inside, it would make him or her look weak and show need for others. Understandably, these men and women don’t want to be a burden to family and friends and don’t want others to have to bear their burdens. In my view, that’s why everyone was confused about Jonathan’s suicide. They simply could not understand why he would do it. But we know something was seriously wrong inside his heart.
This cultural explanation of rugged individualism helps me understand why on that fateful night, Jonathan saw no other option and that’s most likely why he took his own life. From head to toe, he was a “real man.” On that evening of heightened anxiety and emotional distress instead of reaching out for help, he impulsively acted, picked up the desired weapon from his collection and drove to the reservoir to bring an end to it all.
In the spirit of Matthew 25, we reach out and pray for Jonathan Brown’s family, coworkers and friends. We also pray for those thinking about killing themselves, those who are afraid to talk about the deep hurt they are feeling. We pause for reflection to consider what we can do in the aftermath of this young man’s death because we bear some responsibility for this situation. Some may say, “You can’t change the culture.” And maybe we can’t but isn’t it worth considering? After all, Jesus calls us to experience the suffering of the world and do something about it.
In John 13: 34-35, Scripture provides guidance for addressing this issue, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let us focus on this mandate of love and seek ways to act and bring change and work to prevent future events like this one. We collectively ask God to use us to help those hurting inside so that we may prevent the next unexpected suicide. For our men this is especially important.
Can we work to bring about a change in the culture, so people at risk will no longer feel forced into isolation and self-destruction? The task seems pretty daunting. Perhaps we can find ways to empower men and women to share their hurt and pain and help them so that when they find themselves in the middle of an emotional crisis they don’t just end it all.
If you are feeling defensive about this article I hope that you will give it some time, look inside and ask yourself why you feel that way. I believe we can preserve the Wyoming culture and still address this problem. If you are an avid firearms person, consider what you might offer in the way of ideas for preventing
suicides. It’s not enough to say, “We can’t change things.” Instead, let’s start a constructive dialogue and save lives. Others are doing this work.
After losing two teenage sons to suicide, Rhianna Brand has made suicide prevention her life work. Brand is the director of operations at the Grace for 2 Brothers Foundation, a Cheyenne nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness. She is hopeful about bringing about change. She believes “Suicide is 90 percent preventable.”
On another positive note, lawmakers recently restored funding for suicide prevention services across Wyoming. The Department of Health will distribute $8 million to counties for prevention services, with about $2 million of that dedicated for suicide prevention. So, there are some glimmers of light.
Let us be in conversation about this important subject. Maybe we should invite people to come and share with us ways that we might contribute to positive change in our community. If you have suggestions about resources, please let me know. If you have a personal experience you’d like to share, I’m happy to listen.
Grace and peace,
IN OUR THOUGHTS AND IN OUR PRAYERS:
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