Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Cowboy up" mentality doesn't prevent suicides

The Wyoming Department of Health Aug. 27 on-line newsletter about suicide prevention carried this article:

The "Cowboy Up" motto of self-reliance can be deadly for vulnerable Wyoming residents.

Rugged individualism prevails in Wyoming and other frontier states, where residents “cowboy up” to take care of problems on their own — even if that may mean taking their own lives.

Halloween 1991 was a happy time for siblings Beau, Brett and Blair Wagner of Cheyenne. Yet before one brother turned 20 he would be dead by suicide. A second brother ended his life four years later.

Cheyenne Frontier Days™ had wrapped its 113th year a mere week before Beau Wagner ended his life. The date was August 4, 2009, and while local and national media were reporting on record attendance and rodeo champions, Beau was living his last hours. “He was in such a dark place,” recalls his mother BJ Ayers.

Like many who contemplate suicide as a final escape from unrelenting “psychache,” Beau hid the depth of his pain—and hid it well. Reflecting the rugged western independence that Wyoming citizens abide by, Beau handled his problems in his own way. So did his kid brother Brett.

Less than four years earlier, Brett too had died by suicide. He was 19 years old, and the youngest of the three Wagner boys. It was December 1, 2005, the day that Brett's sudden and unforeseen death first shattered this Wyoming family.

The Wagner brothers -- Beau, Brett and Blair -- resemble one another in more ways than their rugged good looks. Genetic predisposition to depression, a mood disorder that is often present in people who die by suicide, is something else Brett and Beau likely had in common. But both coped with their emotional pain in their own ways that didn't include clinical treatment—medication, therapy, or ideally both in combination with one another.

After Brett's passing, he left many drawings, sketches and letters that now serve as a testament to his emotional pain—a pain so great he saw no way out other than to end his life. Mom BJ hoped her two remaining sons would be insulated from thoughts of suicide by their youngest brother's death. That was not to be for Beau. Research shows that people who lose a loved one to suicide are at much higher risk of dying by suicide themselves. As unfathomable as it may be, Beau's following in the footsteps of his younger brother, while tragic and incomprehensible, is not surprising to experts in suicidal thoughts, gestures and attempts.

In 2009 the boys' mom established a non-profit organization, Grace for 2 Brothers Foundation. Its mission is two-fold—to serve as a resource for those in emotional crisis or for those who know a person in crisis, and also for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. These "survivors of suicide loss" often experience traumatic, complicated grief and can be prone to anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, along with potential onset of clinical depression, as an outcome of coping with a loss as profound as suicide, particularly that of a child.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! SATURDAY, AUGUST 14: 1st ANNUAL "WALK OF GRACE" at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lions Park Amphitheater in Cheyenne. For information or to register, visit SUNDAY, AUGUST 15: 2nd ANNUAL MEMORIAL GOLF TOURNAMENT the Airport Golf Course in Cheyenne; registration begins at 11 a.m., with tee-off at 12:30 p.m. For information or to register, contact Rick Boheler at 307-432-0547 or  

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