Bereaved family hopes their loss helps others |

Bereaved family hopes their loss helps others

Mike McCollum
Sandy and Art Dye have established a suicide prevention foundation in memory of their son Jeffrey Dye, a senior at the University of Colorado. The family hopes that the memory of their son, who died November 2007, can help others identify the warning signs connected with suicide.
John F. Russell

Getting help

National 24-hour suicide hotline: (800) 784-2433

Mental Health Crisis Line: 870-1244

Steamboat Mental Health: 879-2141

In emergency situations, dial 911

How to help

To donate to the Jeffrey Allen Dye Suicide Prevention Project, mail donations by check to P.O. Box 881869, Steamboat Springs, CO 80488, or visit the Yampa Valley Community Foundation at

Potential suicide indicators

- Extreme personality changes

- Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable

- Significant loss or gain in appetite

- Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day

- Fatigue or loss of energy

- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

- Withdrawal from family and friends

- Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene

- Sadness, irritability or indifference

- Having trouble concentrating

- Extreme anxiety or panic

- Drug or alcohol use or abuse

- Aggressive, destructive or defiant behavior

- Poor school performance

- Hallucinations or unusual beliefs

- Giving away or throwing away favorite belongings

- Talking about suicide or death

****Courtesy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness,

Steamboat Springs — Late at night in an off-campus apartment in Boulder, Sandy and Art Dye's son was blinded in a narrow tunnel of depression. He had stumbled, and with no friends or family there to pull him up on that November 2007 night, 21-year-old Jeffrey Dye committed suicide. — Late at night in an off-campus apartment in Boulder, Sandy and Art Dye's son was blinded in a narrow tunnel of depression. He had stumbled, and with no friends or family there to pull him up on that November 2007 night, 21-year-old Jeffrey Dye committed suicide.

— Late at night in an off-campus apartment in Boulder, Sandy and Art Dye’s son was blinded in a narrow tunnel of depression. He had stumbled, and with no friends or family there to pull him up on that November 2007 night, 21-year-old Jeffrey Dye committed suicide.

From their home in Steamboat Springs on Friday, Sandy and Art Dye said there were subtle signs their son, a 2004 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, was battling depression. He stopped reporting to work the week before his death, and he was telling friends about painful emotional problems, but no one recognized the changes in behavior as suicidal signs.

“If Jeff had been standing there with blood gushing out of his arm, no one would say, ‘Gee, why don’t you go to the emergency room tomorrow,'” Sandy Dye said. “Someone would say, ‘Oh,

there is a problem here, let me help you.’ Had his friends and family had the skills and tools to recognize that he had hit an emotional iceberg, he would be alive today.”

The Dyes have since established the Jeffery Allen Dye Suicide Prevention Project with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation to provide funds for programs that help friends and family recognize life-threatening cries for help.

“The more we dug into the details after his death, what was really happening was that he was fading away,” said Sandy Dye, a retired school psychologist.

“Life is messy, and kids need people willing to help them when life gets messy,” she said. “Kids don’t tell parents, they tell other kids. : You need to get into that friend network and say, ‘If you know the signs of suicide, you can save your friend’s life.'”

Colorado suicide rates high

Tom Gangel, director of Steamboat Mental Health, said Routt County’s suicide rate is high when compared to other places in the Rocky Mountain region, which has the highest suicide rate in the country.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, seven suicides were reported in Routt County in 2007, which is up from five in 2005. In any given year, roughly 600 Coloradans commit suicide, and suicide is the No. 1 cause of death for teens in Colorado.

Sarah Ross, an emergency services coordinator and therapist with the Steamboat Mental Health Center, visits middle school and high school students in the Steamboat Springs and South Routt school districts every Wednesday to talk about suicide and depression.

“What the schools contract with us is three free sessions with any student,” she said. “If a student is self-identified, they can come and get on the list, or if they are referred by school counselors. We do need parental permission. Technically a child who is older than 15 can choose, but at the school it is really important to keep everybody in the loop.”

Ross said between four and seven students visit with her to discuss suicide each week she visits Steamboat Springs High School, which has about 700 students.

A 2002 anonymous survey of Steamboat high school students indicated nearly 40 percent had considered suicide. Many said they also attempted it. Although there are no current statistics on thoughts of suicide by Steamboat teens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that the teen suicide rate among young people nationwide increased 8 percent.

“These are not the same four or so kids each week, because after three free sessions they are referred to Steamboat Mental Health,” she said. “And what I’m worried about most are the ones who are not being identified or self-identified.”

Ross advised parents or friends who suspect someone is battling suicidal thoughts to take two steps – broach the subject, and then be an empathetic listener.

“It can be a really scary thing for a parent to ask, including myself,” said Ross, who also visits with middle school’s basic life training classes every semester to discuss suicide prevention with sixth-graders.

“My experience is that people are honest with you when you ask them about suicide,” she said. “Come right out and ask it – ‘Are you going to kill yourself?’ There is part of that person who wants to die, but there is a part of that person who wants to be living.”

Getting help

Gangel also suggested being forthwith when asking a friend or loved one if they are contemplating suicide, but he noted that recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts are often difficult, especially in teens and young adults.

“The signs are real similar to teen life, and that is the subtle part,” he said “You just have to kind of read those signs and stack them up and see if a kid is reading a little different, or if the kid is changing that is really different in a way from the rest of the kids.”

The Colorado Trust reported that common factors that appear to precipitate suicide among youths include a variety of stressful life events, such as disciplinary crises, interpersonal loss, interpersonal conflict, humiliation and shame.

“If you want to do a good job in monitoring this, we have to make mistakes,” Gangel said. “You have to send several people to the counselor or to the emergency room who didn’t need to go because the signs are so subtle.”

He added that studies of teens and young adults who attempted suicide, but failed, revealed that they didn’t tell friends and family about their emotional pain because they didn’t want to burden loved ones.

“That is the point we drive home to kids is that it is OK to burden your friends with this problem,” he said. “It’s really hard for a really depressed person to hear because they are thinking, ‘No one likes me,’ or ‘Nobody wants me around.’ If you just tell your friends you are thinking about killing yourself, they are going to be lining up to help you out.”

Response to tragedy

Gangel is a member of the Steamboat Springs School District’s Crisis Management Team, along with school principals, counselors and other district administrators. In the event of a school tragedy, the team responds with counseling services for students.

The team was put to the test Jan. 12 after the deaths of high school junior Cole Verploeg and 2006 alumna Ann Barney. That night, mental health professionals and school officials provided grief counseling to students at the high school’s basketball game. Grief counselors also were available the following week at school to discuss the complex feelings of losing a friend.

“Typically what you are talking about in grief situations is helping people normalize what they are feeling,” he said. “Everybody goes through grief a little bit differently. : The main thing you are trying to do is help them understand that whatever they are feeling is probably OK and that they are going to be sad and they are going to be upset. Also, some of the kids feel bad because they don’t feel bad.”

Sandy Dye said she doubts she’ll ever have a good day again, only good moments, but rather than locking up all her pain in losing her son, she is focusing her energy on raising money for the family’s suicide prevention foundation.

“What we want to say is, you know, this is a problem,” she said. “My son’s legacy needs to be proactive, because let’s face the fact, suicide is out there. By not talking about it, that’s not going to make any more kids in less pain.”

On the family’s dining room table, about a dozen empty flower vases are displayed. Sandy Dye said the remnants of her son’s celebration of life service will never be hidden in a cupboard or cardboard box.

“The flowers in the vases are gone, but the issue remains,” she said.

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