In America, there were 44,834 deaths by suicide, in 2020, according to the New York Times. While this number dropped by 5 percent from the previous year, it is still staggering. Even more staggering is the fact that Wyoming’s suicide rate remains the second-highest in the nation. A report from the American Association of Suicidology revealed that in 2018, more than 25 out of every 100,000 Wyomingites died by suicide.

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Why?

Why is this? It’s something experts have been discussing and debating for years. Is it the altitude? The wind? The isolation of Wyoming? Is it the perceived “cowboy up” culture that makes individuals feel as though they’re not “tough” if they ask for help? It’s hard to find answers because each and every case of suicide has its own story, but Jenny Hunter of J.R.’s Hunt for Life says that one of the biggest reasons for suicide, something that claimed the life of her son years ago, is a loss of hope.

A loss of hope was something Jenny, her husband, and the rest of her family experienced after the death of J.R., but hope has found its way back to their lives and now they are using their story, J.R.’s story, to help save the lives of others. That is why they started J.R.’s Hunt for life, a non-profit organization designed to raise awareness, and hope, when it comes to mental health issues, including suicide.

“Frankly, we [started J.R.’s Hunt for Life] for us,” Hunter said at the third annual Festival of Hope, which took place on Saturday afternoon at The Lyric in downtown Casper. “We were selfish. We didn’t know how we were going to survive this loss [of our son]. We didn’t understand the things that we were feeling and all kinds of symptoms, like memory loss, all kinds of things that come with a tragedy. So we wanted to be around people that could answer those questions for us, and that happened to be people who, sadly, also lost their family or friends to suicide.”

Hunter may say her reasons for starting the organization were selfish, but the results of it decidedly were not.

“We started an in-person support group and we would meet these people and we would all come together and talk about what we were experiencing, the thoughts we were having, things like that,” she said. “And from that, it just kind of grew into this.”

This, as it turned out to be on Saturday, was a huge gathering of local businesses, artists, musicians, therapists, professionals, superheroes and more who all came out to offer their skills, expertise and stories in order to raise awareness about suicide.

The event, which took place across The Lyric as well as the parking lot of Wyo Central Federal Credit Union, featured a multitude of dogs, face painting, mini horses, live music and so much more. A lot of people turned out for the event, which just further exemplified the fact that those struggling with suicidal thoughts are not alone.

“This event shows me that we’re all together,” Hunter said. “We’re all letting people know that they’re not alone. And we can talk about suicide freely without judgments. Our son had a big tattoo down his arm that said ‘Only God can judge me.’ He lived a totally non-judgmental life. And that is our mantra – no judgments.’

She continued, stating that ‘The best thing that could happen because of this event would be that people would learn to live without judging other people, and allowing them to speak and talk without the fear of stigma.

Because that is the best way to fight suicide, and any other mental health issues – by realizing that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be depressed, anxious, angry, sad and, yes, suicidal. All feelings are valid and they can all be talked about. And maybe, by talking with others, people can realize that they are not alone and that they can still find hope.

“Hope means that there’s not a black tunnel in front of me,” Hunter offered. “It means that there is something out there for me to keep me going. Hope is the enemy of suicide, and if we can give just a moment of hope to someone, we may save their life. And that’s what this event about – all different kinds of people. It’s like an eclectic gathering if all these activities and superheroes and therapy animals and bands; it’s everybody coming together to offer hope with their talents.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. There is help, there is hope, and there are resources.

Visit Nami.com to speak with licensed therapists, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.