Movie lore has long depicted the West as a tough place to survive, and a story by Stephen Rodrick at Rolling Stone explores a relatively recent twist in why that remains true: Rising suicide rates. More specifically, rising suicide rates among isolated, white, middle-aged men. For some stark stats, consider that white men account for 70% of the roughly 47,000 suicides recorded by the CDC in 2017. Those ages 45 to 64 make up the fastest-growing group, and five of the six states with the fastest-growing rates are in the mountain time zone—Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, and Utah. Only Alaska is the time-zone outlier, but the same factors behind the rising numbers apply there as well. So what's going on in rural America? Rodrick travels the region telling individual stories, but some general truths apply to what the story refers to as a suicide epidemic.
These men "not only own guns and lack mental-health resources—by one estimate, there are 80 or so psychiatrists licensed to practice in Wyoming—but they also have chosen a life that values independence above all else," he writes. Another general theme is that lean economic times from the Great Recession still linger, which only increases isolation for some. "There’s been an increase in the ‘every-man-for-himself mentality,'" as one University of Utah researcher puts it. "There doesn’t seem to be as strong a sense of 'We’re all in this together.'" The idea of limiting guns in these regions is all but a non-starter, and Rodrick talks to a young activist who has run into friction pushing even the idea of gun locks, devices that might provide a few precious minutes for someone to reconsider a rash decision. Click for the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)