Suicides in Colorado reached record high numbers and rates in 2012, the state health department reported Monday.
Last year, 1,053 people in the state committed suicide, up about 16 percent from the year before and the highest number since at least 1940.
The suicide rate per 100,000 people — which accounts for population growth — reached 19.7 last year, the highest rate since 1980, the earliest year for which comparable population estimates are available.
"The reality is we don't have good answers as to why there are more people committing suicide," said Jarrod Hindman, manager of the health department's Office of Suicide Prevention. "It's such a complex issue that it's hard to identify why someone takes their life."
The unemployment rate, mental illness and poor access to mental health resources may contribute, Hindman said. Veterans, members of the gay community and working males are at higher risk for suicide.
"We need more education and awareness, better access to professional mental services and individuals who are suicidal to ask for help," he said. "We should focus our limited dollars on areas with the highest risk and where we have the best chance to make an impact."
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255 — is one resource for suicidal individuals.
Others options are the Means Restriction Education initiative that works to reduce suicidal patients' access to lethal items like guns and medications, as well as the ManTherapy.org website.
The website created by the public health department, the nonprofit Carson J Spencer Foundation and the Denver ad agency Cactus is targeted at men at risk for depression and suicide.
In Colorado, males account for about 76.9 percent of all suicides.
As the number of deaths continues to increase, some experts believe government officials will begin to appropriate more funds and energy into suicide prevention programs, said Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO of the Carson J Spencer Foundation, named for her brother, who took his own life in 2004.
Suicide rates are rising across the U.S. among people 35 to 64, and "Colorado has very few resources to stem the tide," she said.
The good news, she said, is that prevention is helping those who are at risk identify problems sooner, address root causes, and focus on groups beyond teenagers.
The number of suicide deaths decreased slightly in the 15- to 19-year-old group, dropping to 41 in 2012 from 43 the year before, and among those older than 75, dropping to 53 from 54. However, the number of Coloradans between the ages of 20 and 64 who committed suicide increased 16.7 percent to 27.3 deaths per 100,000 adults in 2012 from 23.4 the year before.