Crystal O’Bryan apologized for her scratchy voice. She’d spent the past several hours fielding numerous calls from neighbors and friends following a sparsely attended public meeting at the Wright library branch on Tuesday to discuss the fact that, for the first time ever, the Campbell County Prevention Council (CCPC) will offer services in Wright. Working in partnership with Community Prevention Specialist Ashley McRae, O’Bryan hopes to shed light on what she sees as a dark spot in her community when it comes to suicide prevention and substance abuse.
And though many residents didn’t physically attend the informational meeting, O’Bryan’s message box was full of voice and emails from residents, many of whom explained that they didn’t attend the meeting because they weren’t comfortable sharing their stories in public.
She gets it.
As a teenager growing up in Gillette, O’Bryan was really good at hiding her emotions. In fact, back then, she couldn’t really put a name on what she was feeling herself, let alone explain it to her family or friends. A couple of times during that period she attempted to take her own life. When she ended up in the hospital, nobody, including herself, wanted to address the real underlying reasons she had ended up in the ER, and like everyone else, pretended it was all just an accident.
It wasn’t until she was a college student living in Idaho that someone shed light on her mental health. An upperclassman, noting O’Bryan’s recognizable symptoms of depression, reached out to her to ask if she needed help. It was a turning point in her life, she said, not only to help her understand what was happening, but to enable her to seek help that she now credits with saving her life. Since that day, Crystal has made it her personal mission to do everything she can to help others who might be in the same boat.
Let’s face it, she noted; suicide in Wyoming is a problem, as is alcoholism and substance abuse. And though Gillette has a number of services available through the Campbell County Prevention Council (CCPC), as well as a number of mental health counselors and therapists and available groups to help with both suicide and substance abuse, the small town of Wright with less than 2,000 residents thus far has been without any local resources.
Right now, Wright residents have to either drive to Douglas or Gillette to seek professional services or attend AA or other groups. On a good day, driving nearly an hour in one direction requires a certain level of commitment, Crystal noted, let alone making the trek in the middle of winter.
“Some people quit because it’s so much work going to Gillette,” she said, “and then they end up at square one.”
Having a counselor come to Wright once or twice a month would make a difference for many, as would having weekly or group meetings available for those who are struggling with suicidal ideations or substance abuse or those family members who are attempting to reconcile their feelings of grief or loss. Ideally, Crystal would also like to include a group specifically to reach veterans and others grappling with mental health issues and addictions.
It’s way overdue, O’Bryan noted, and Wright, like other Wyoming cities, has been plagued with its share of loss from suicide.
In a state that chronically dominates headlines with its escalating suicide rates and consistent ranking as one of the top three states per capita in the nation, many in Campbell County and Wyoming would like to see a reverse in that trend. So far, however, the statistics continue to look grim. In 2016, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health, there were 142 suicides (24 per 100,000 persons) compared to the national average of 14 per 100,000. This rate has been on the rise for decades, the same data suggests, from 17 per 100,000 in 2004 up to 24 per 100,000 in 2016. Of these, 80% percent were completed by men with 64% using a firearm. Statistically speaking, males are at a much higher risk with almost four times the rate of women.
Right now, CCPC is committed to expanding services to Wright, from contracting with behavioral health experts in neighboring cities to offer services in Wright to providing training and resources to help get other groups off the ground.
“My hope is that if I do the hard work and get it set up, someone will step in and help me run it,” O’Bryan said with a laugh. Between her volunteer work, part-time job as outreach coordinator for St. Francis Church and full-time mothering duties, she’s spread pretty thin.
This is why she’s actively recruiting other Wright residents like 41-year-old Justin Gallob, who like Crystal, has first-hand knowledge of losing loved ones to suicide.
His 24-year-old cousin was among those lost, as was an older friend of his when he was still in grade school. His own family is still bearing the brunt of that loss, and he’d also like to do something to help others in similar situations. Justin has agreed to head up a group for survivors of suicide and their family members, as well as those who might be struggling with their own issues.
Admittedly, this is the first time Justin has done anything like this is and he’s nervous about the prospect of heading up this group. That said, he thinks it’s worth it to step outside of his comfort zone to be able to help others like himself and his family reconcile with feelings of hopelessness and loss.
“I’m hoping to be able to reach some people who might be in crisis or just need to talk,” he said by phone from Wright last Monday afternoon. “Having services locally will be a big help because it’s a serious problem, and I’m happy to be able to help.”
For now, he and O’Bryan are both excited with the prospect of expanding any kind of services in Wright.
“We’re a small grass roots group,” O’Bryan said, “and I’d like to get more people involved and listen to suggestions for what people in Wright need.
To that end, O’Bryan has set up a poll to gauge interest in the community in terms of groups or services or those willing to volunteer.