16 years ago, Lance Neiberger considered ending his life when his son hanged himself. This oil engineer from Wyoming is now leading a fierce fight against the spread of suicides that is ravaging his western American state.
“I was in my office when my wife called me. She said to me + come back immediately +”, recalls the septuagenarian.
“I jumped in my car and drove home,” said the bright-eyed man. “My daughter was in our garden, on her knees, screaming.”
Lyle, 17, had just killed himself.
“I knew he was battling depression, I knew he was having trouble dealing with certain things,” his dad says today. “I was not there for my son when he needed me the most,” he laments.
In order to overcome his own thoughts of suicide, Casper resident Lance Neiberger joins a suicide prevention group — a scourge that ravages Wyoming more than any other US state.
– “Cowboy mentality” –
In Wyoming, known to be the least populated state in America, the suicide rate is twice as high as in the rest of the country.
Here, the cities are more than 150 km apart, the weather more than inhospitable and two-thirds of adults have a weapon at home – all factors pointed out by the experts to explain that we put an end to it in his life more than anywhere else.
Add to that a “cowboy mentality”, a direct legacy of the region’s hostility, “where you have to get up when you fall, where you shouldn’t cry when you’re a man”, describes Lance Neiberger.
Wyoming also has an overwhelmingly white population – statistically more prone to suicide. In 2020, 70% of Americans who committed suicide were white men.
The dozen ambulances parked in front of his house, the noise of the body bag… For 16 years, Lance Neiberger has relived the death of his son daily through his interventions in schools, centers and fairs in the region, plagued by this deep mental health crisis.
“We have a problem, it is high time to solve it,” he warns.
Montana, Idaho and neighboring Colorado are also ravaged by this scourge. So much so that the entire region, crossed by the Rocky Mountains, has inherited the sinister nickname of “suicide belt” – the “diagonal of suicide”.
In 2018, a hotline was launched in Wyoming, to connect those who need help with health professionals familiar with the issues that are so specific to the region. Last July, a national emergency number, 988, was also created to strengthen the system.
But this aid is insufficient.
– “The bottom” –
“We have very rural communities, and in those communities, mental health care, and even physical health care, is sorely lacking,” says Lance Neiberger.
“In this town alone, we don’t have enough psychiatrists to prescribe medication,” agrees Jason Whitmire, who joined the same prevention group after “hit rock bottom”.
This Wyoming native geologist, who suffers from bipolar disorder, has come close to suicide twice.
The first time, in 2013, “I was 45 minutes from home, I had planned to go home and use a gun,” recalls the 30-year-old father of two young children.
On the highway, a “click”.
“I collapsed, I called my relatives to tell them that I was in danger,” he says in a calm voice.
But four years later, Jason Whitmire tries again to end his life.
After years of “roller coaster”, he assures that it is now beneficial for him to share his testimony.
Alongside Lance Neiberger, he has prepared in recent weeks a series of events that the group organizes in September, the month of prevention against suicide in the United States.
“I’m hopeful it might be useful to someone.”