Concerns about suicides on the rise in Routt County, but so are available resources
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While adrenalin and novelty powered many people through the first few weeks of the coronavirus crisis, some grim realities are now setting in.
Across the country there are reports of surges in calls to suicide hotlines.
In England, a 19-year old waitress took her own life, reportedly petrified by the lockdown and isolation.
In Italy, a 34-year-old nurse took her own life, traumatized by her experience on the frontline.
In India, a 50-year-old father of three who took his own life is is described as a being in a state of utter panic that he and his family would be infected by the virus.
Over the past two weeks in a region of East Tennessee, 12 people died by suicide — more than of COVID-19 in that same region during that time period — though it isn’t known how many of those suicides are related to the pandemic.
Given the fact suicide rates have been rising in the U.S. over the past two decades, there is growing concern that different aspects of what we are now facing in our daily lives could exacerbate that trend even further.
There is the increased social isolation.
“Remarkable social distancing interventions have been implemented to fundamentally reduce human contact,” write the authors of a Friday, April 10, report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). “While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high.”
There is the economic stress.
“Economic downturns are usually associated with higher suicide rates compared with periods of relative prosperity,” according to the report.
But there are measures we can take to prevent suicides and to bolster our own mental health, as well as that of our friends and family. And here in the Yampa Valley, there are numerous resources available to help people through this challenging and uncertain time.
The JAMA report ends with optimistic considerations: “There may be a silver lining to the current situation. Suicide rates have declined in the period after past national disasters (e.g., the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). One hypothesis is the so-called pulling-together effect, whereby individuals undergoing a shared experience might support one another, thus strengthening social connectedness. Recent advancements in technology (e.g., video conferencing) might facilitate pulling together. Epidemics and pandemics may also alter one’s views on health and mortality, making life more precious, death more fearsome, and suicide less likely.”
At this early stage, no one knows what impact the pandemic will have on suicide rates.
Locally, “We have definitely seen an increase in people reaching out,” said Mindy Marriott, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, or REPS.
And a lot of that is coming from concerned friends, family and coworkers, she said.
Because of an increase in funding, Marriott said they are able to provide five free sessions of therapy for youth and adults experiencing suicidal ideation.
People can either self-refer themselves to REPS, Marriott explained, or someone else can refer them. Or, people can contact a local provider directly and let them know they would like to be seen in a REPS referral session. REPS then reimburses the providers.
In 2019, there were 27 people who utilized the free therapy sessions, Marriott said. Already in 2020, there are 17 people.
Marriott noted a little more than half the calls she is getting are from people who aren’t necessarily feeling suicidal, but they are feeling high levels of fear, anxiety, depression and a lack of control.
“There’s lots of uncertainty about the future,” she said. “And the financial strain has caused a tremendous impact on so many people.”
And these stresses can take a much higher toll on people already facing mental health challenges.
“This is an extremely vulnerable time for those people,” she said. “The most important thing is to get them connected to someone right away.”
Regardless of the degrees of mental health challenges you are facing, Marriott said,“This time, more than anything, it is so critical for everyone to take extra care to protect their mental health.”
Marriott advises staying on a regular sleep pattern, and “worry less about getting things done and more about making sure you are getting enough sleep and rest.”
Also keep a regular routine when it comes to showering, eating dinner and putting the kids to bed, she advised. “And make your environment safe and comfortable.”
Marriott encourages people to “move as much as possible throughout the day.”
That might mean some basic stretching, a walk, an online exercise class or, one new trend Marriott likes, “dance party videos of parents with their children.”
Limit alcohol intake, she advises, as that can worsen depression and interfere with sleep. If people need a safe place to store firearms or prescription medications, REPS can help with that, Marriott said.
And stay connected in whatever way you can, she suggests. Write letters, host a virtual dinner party and check in with your therapist.
Marriott also wants to make sure young people aren’t overlooked. Their schedules have been disrupted, and “they don’t have the life experience to know this will pass,” she said. “They have little to no opportunities for socialization,” and many events they’ve been looking forward to — like sporting events, concerts, prom and graduation — are being canceled or postponed.
“It’s important for adults to listed to how their kids are feeling,” she said. “Try to minimize disappointment, but also hear it and validate it.”
While Marriott emphasizes that REPS is not a 24-hour hotline, there many out there, and REPS can connect people to resources, and they offer support groups as well as volunteer training opportunities, and there are grants available to cover the cost for those trainings.
Colorado Crisis Services Hotline
Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (REPS)
Mind Springs Health
Emergency line for current clients: 877-886-8192
HEARTBEAT, Steamboat Springs
Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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