Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Depressed? Get over it, cowboy!

Wyoming teens still engage in risky behavior.

That’s not really news for teens living anywhere or at any time. I must admit that I engaged in some risky behaviors as a lad. Lived to tell the tale and to lament the fact that we don’t seem to be making any progress on this front.

In its Kids Count report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation says this:

Wyoming’s death rate among people 15 to 19 years old, based on accidents, suicides, homicides and other causes, was 86 per 100,000. Only seven other states had a higher rate.

In 2000, Wyoming’s teen death rate was 81 per 100,000.

For our teens, things are getting worse, not better.

And this happening during boom times, a time of budget surpluses and increases in state spending on education and, to a certain extent, health care. This includes boosts in funding for mental health care, too.

So, if throwing money at a problem fixes it, we should all have happy and productive and living teens.

Some of us do not. In 2008, six percent of the state’s teens were not attending school and had not graduated from high school. That’s better than 2000 when that figure was 10 percent. Teen pregnancy is up. Fifty-one births were recorded in 2007 for every 1,000 females 15-19 years old. That was 42 per 1,000 in 2000.

Lots of bad news sprinkled with some good news.

These are more than boring stats for those of us with teen children. Our 17-year-old daughter Annie has engaged in some risky behavior. I’m sure that Chris and I know only some of it. The war on drugs has failed us and our country. Teens seem to get booze any time they want. Annie seems to know more high school drop-outs than kids still in school. There’s a batch of homeless teens in Cheyenne who roam from one friend’s house to another and occasionally sleep under bridges. One only has to wander through the mall to see our town’s array of teen mothers.

One could write a book on this subject, but someone else will have to do that. I just want to explore one factor that underlies all of these problems.


A conservative state with a frontier mentality. If you live here, you get to enjoy some incredible scenery and outdoor activities. Peace and quiet and low crime rates. In exchange, you will be underpaid and have access to second-rate health care and third-rate amenities in the arts and culture. Mental health care is almost nonexistent. This is a state without a single child psychiatrist and only one drug and alcohol treatment center for teens. The reigning attitude is that you can tough it out, no matter what the “it” is? Drunk? Quit drinking. Depressed? Get over it, boy, and get to work. Suicidal? If you want to shoot yourself, please do it outside.

This is all tied in with the rugged individualism that made Wyoming great. That’s the myth, anyway. Our State Legislature actually spent time during the past session on an official code based on some pretend cowboy past. I blogged about during the session ( and last spring

The Legislature is representative of Wyoming in that it is overwhelmingly Republican and more conservative that most of the Wyomingites I know. It has many more members from the ranching and agricultural fields than is represented in the population as a whole. The part-time Wyoming House and Senate should be made up of mainly of those from the extractive industries, tourism and government – local, state and federal. A columnist once postulated that if Wyoming had a logo that better represented its population, it would replace the bucking horse with a bureaucrat carrying a briefcase. Just imagine that image on state letterhead.

We hate gubment. We are the gubment. Wyomingites get more back in funding from Uncle Sam then they pay in taxes.

We hate gubment.

Back to our teenagers. We have some fine teens in this town. Smart, energetic, talented. In a few years, they’ll be of to college and exciting careers in places other than Wyoming. Some will had for the military, and still others for the oil patch.

Many others will be left behind. Pregnant at 16, or working fast-food jobs while something better opens up. Others will die while driving drunk.

And we’ll sit back, watch the unfolding chaos, and ponder the wonders of the Cowboy Code.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorite things to do when the day is winding down here in Annapolis is to hit my favorite political blog. When I'm done reading, I hit the 'next blog' button and see where it takes me. It changes everytime (I'm sure due to some technical aspect of blogland).

Today, I ended up here reading this excellent blog post from Cheyenne.

Amazing to hear that your community is dealing with the same issues we are dealing with way out East.

And very happy to hear there are progressive voices in Wyoming.

Takoma Park Maryland

Michael Shay said...

Pleased to make your acquaintance. In the mid-90s, we lived in Rockville when I was on a two-year assignment with the NEA in D.C. Thanks for reading and commenting.