COWBOY TOUGH: Mental Health Matters

Wyoming is a state that is incredibly well-known for many different things. It is the first state to allow women to vote thus advancing the women’s rights movement you can still see in action today. It is home to seven national parks including Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower, Grand Teton National Park, Fossil Butte, Fort Laramie, and Bighorn Canyon. It only has one university which sits at a steep 7220 feet in elevation and is actually older than the state by 4 years as it was founded in 1886 while the territory became the 44th US state in 1890. On top of all of this, Wyoming is known for being the cowboy state. A place where cowboys in the most real sense still live, farm, and ranch today, and in case you are wondering… yes, there are more cows in than people here and yes, there are more antelope here than people too. Cowboy tough and live and let live are mottos you will often hear around here. Wyomingites are raised to be strong, independent people that do not dive into the business of other people’s lives. With this can come solitude, and with solitude comes a topic that many people in Wyoming don’t often talk about: mental health.

In Wyoming, the age-adjusted suicide rate per 100,000 from 2009-2019 peaked at about 30 people per 100,000. In 2018-2019, 5.7% of adults in Wyoming had serious suicidal thoughts in the past year which was higher than the US average by 1.1%. In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death in people ages 12-17, and 29.6 per 100,000 people in Wyoming committed suicide which is 15.7 per 100,000 people MORE than the national average. To put this into perspective, Wyoming was home to 580,116 people in 2019. This means that 170 people in Wyoming successfully committed suicide in 2019, and this doesn’t take unsuccessful attempts into account.3

On average, someone in Wyoming died by suicide every 60 hours in 2021. To put this into perspective, this means that every 2.5 days, someone in Wyoming commits suicide, and at least one suicide is committed in Wyoming 146 days out of 365 days in a year.5 This almost definitely means that you or someone you know has been deeply affected by suicide within Wyoming. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death in Wyoming and is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-44 in Wyoming. Furthermore, middle-aged men are most likely to commit suicide in Wyoming and men in Wyoming are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. On top of this, 80% of suicides in Wyoming are committed by men. The suicide rate for men in Wyoming is 35 per every 100,000 while for women it is 9 per every 100,000. Men are less likely to report a form of depression than women by a difference of 9%. This might not seem like a high percentage, but the fact that only 11% of men are likely to report a form of depression in Wyoming should be incredibly frightening as it is proven that men experience mental health issues at same or greater numbers than women.6

Men’s mental health in Wyoming is being deemed a “silent crisis” and the cowboy tough slogan seen around Wyoming is almost certainly a factor in why. Men in Wyoming are taught from a very young age to be strong, rugged, and masculine and this often means being scared to show vulnerability and thus being more likely to stay silent about mental health issues they are facing.2

In 22 years, I have personally known 2 people in Wyoming that have committed suicide, both of which were men, and know many others that have attempted or thought about attempting. Beyond that, those who I do know who have attempted are mainly men and they never received any sort of mental health counseling following their attempt, and only told a handful of people about their experience as they are ashamed or embarrassed about their struggles with mental health. In Wyoming, especially as a man, you are expected to be cowboy tough and handle any issue that comes your way with unbridled strength and courage. That is simply not possible in many situations and is an unbelievably high expectation to reach.

All of this information goes to say, more needs to be done in Wyoming in regard to men’s mental health. This wouldn’t be the first time we as a society, as well as a community within Wyoming, have seen a movement of this kind. Organizations and social movements such as Real Men Wear Pink are trailblazers for men’s mental health advocacy. Real Men Wear Pink strives to raise awareness and support for both men’s and women’s breast cancer.4 Men’s breast cancer is another issue within the men’s mental health realm. It is again something that is seen as hyper-female and men that have breast cancer are often less likely to be open about their experience.1 Real Men Wear Pink is an excellent example of breaking traditional masculine stereotypes and diving into an arena that is typically deemed for women. Men talking about breast cancer, in general, is a huge step forward, but wearing pink proves that organizations that push masculine barriers out of the way are effective and long-lasting. In terms of Real Men Wear Pink and Wyoming, it can be seen all across Wyoming in various arenas, literally! Real Men Wear Pink is prominent in rodeo arenas across the state and pink button-down shirts have almost become a staple of the sport at this point. My uncles were both successful college rodeo athletes and I can vividly recall the first time seeing male college rodeo athletes sporting point button-downs in their events as my mom and I watched them compete. The success of Real Men Wear Pink in the rodeo arenas across Wyoming proves that Wyoming is open to change when out comes to what masculinity really means to tough cowboys, thus opening a door to other issues that need more attention such as men’s mental health within the state. Rodeo is the state sport and is typically full of some of the toughest cowboys in the state. If there is a space for Real Men Wear Pink in rodeo, there is a space for men’s mental health advocates and conversations in Wyoming as well.

Cowboy tough, a common slogan for much of Wyoming, means many different things to every individual person. It resembles and embodies a state of mind for the state, and it means the same thing to the majority of people, but it has the potential to have individual value and is a malleable slogan as time persists on. Cowboy tough can embody the core values and characteristics of those in Wyoming while also taking on new meaning to individuals and the Wyoming community alike. As we move forward into the future, as a tight-knit, live-and-let-live cowboy tough state we need to embrace that to be cowboy tough is to be courageous, have unbridled strength when necessary, and take the bull by the horns and tackle mental health by being courageous, strong, and tough enough to be vulnerable and talk about mental health. This is the case for all Wyomingitesbut is especially important when it comes to emphasizing that men who are cowboy tough, are men that talk about mental health. Real men talk about mental health, and cowboys are tough enough to be vulnerable about mental health.

This is almost certainly a lot to take in all at once, and might not be what you were expecting in terms of a blog post, however mental health matters, and to be cowboy tough is to talk about mental health, especially focusing on the epidemic that is the men’s mental health crisis and suicide within Wyoming.


  1. “About Breast Cancer in Men.” American Cancer Society,
  2. Ashley, Deidre. “Mens’ Mental Health Is ‘Silent Crisis’.” Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, Deidre Ashley Https://, 6 Feb. 2023,
  3. “Mental Health and Substance Use State Fact Sheets.” KFF, 21 Apr. 2022, /.
  4. “Real Men Wear Pink.” Learn About Men Fighting Breast Cancer | Real Men Wear Pink,
  5. S U I C I D E I N W YO M I N G – Wyoming Department of Health, c-1.pdf.
  6. Suicide in Wyoming – Wyoming Department of Health. Wyoming Department of Health,

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