Deaths by suicide in 2021 hit peak again in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com
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Deaths by suicide in 2021 hit peak again in Routt County

REPS Youth Ambassador Coordinator Leslie Christensen teaches a safeTALK class that helps people learn not to miss, dismiss or avoid helping someone who is considering suicide.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Last year was particularly tough in Routt County for suicide tragedies with 11 deaths by suicide, according to nonprofit Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this is in over a decade,” said REPS Executive Director Mindy Marriott.

The 11 deaths by suicide in 2021 match the previous peak of 11 in 2010, Marriott said, compared to seven deaths from suicide of Routt County residents in 2020 and four or less suicides per year from 2016 to 2019. In 2020 across Colorado, 1,294 people died from suicide, according to the Colorado Vital Statistics Program.



The director believes key factors contributing to the local deaths last year include isolation, increased substance abuse as a result of isolation, and “added anxiety and stress over fear of the unknown” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Based on the information I have received on the deaths by suicide, there’s no doubt that issues from the pandemic were a key factor in many of those deaths,” Marriott said.



Those deaths from suicide last year were largely men, and the majority used a firearm, Marriott said. The ages of the individuals ranged from early 20s to early 80s. To date this year, two people have died by suicide in Routt County, she said.

In the continued battle to prevent suicides in their coverage area of Routt and Moffat counties, REPS is expanding community education programs and staff members. Within the past 12 months, REPS added three part-time employees in addition to the existing full-time director and part-time suicide prevention coordinator in Moffat County. New staff include coordinators for community connections, youth ambassadors and gun shop program. The nonprofit received additional funding for new part-time staff from private foundations as a result of the pandemic, Marriott said.

Last week, REPS trainer Leslie Christensen offered the first workshop in Routt County for the safeTALK program that includes the key T-A-L-K points of Tell, Ask, Listen and Keep Safe. Community members and REPS volunteers learned that people considering suicide need to feel comfortable to tell or provide “invitations” for others to realize that they need help.

SafeTALK trainer Leslie Christensen, a suicide survivor 25 years ago, said all suicide “invitations” are serious and “cannot be dismissed.”
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Ask means a community advocate or listener needs to ask questions and pay attention in order to realize that someone is thinking about suicide, then ask that person directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” The trainer showed participants how to avoid the common tendency to miss, dismiss or avoid warnings of suicide.

Listen means the listener should really hear what a person is thinking and stay with the person, saying, “Let’s talk about this. I am listening. This is important.”

Keep Safe means the listener says, “We need extra help. I want to connect you with someone who can help you keep safe.”

“The person with thoughts of suicide almost always wants to talk about why it has come into their lives,” said Christensen, who survived a suicide attempt 25 years ago and has been a REPS volunteer for 15 years. “Most of the time they put out signs looking for help. Just because they are not saying it openly does not mean they are not telling us in other ways.”

Conversational keys about suicide

According to the Living Works’ safeTALK resource book:

• Most people thinking of suicide want help to stay alive.

• People thinking of suicide find ways to invite help from others.

• Invitations are often missed, dismissed or avoided.

• The best way to find out if someone is thinking of suicide is to ask directly.

• Asking directly about suicide will not give someone the idea.

• Avoiding direct and open talk about suicide is not helpful and could be dangerous.

• Anyone could have thoughts of suicide.

• Everyone can learn how to help.

Christensen said listeners should “accept that any possibility of suicide is serious.” Marriott noted that many local parents of teens have told her, mistakenly, that their teen’s talk of suicide is not serious and “just a phase.”

REPS staff started a Youth Ambassadors program at Steamboat Springs High School last school year and hopes to add the offering at all the high schools in Routt and Moffat counties this coming school year. Suicide awareness and motivational speaker Marc Mero, a former professional wrestler, is scheduled to speak at SSHS in September.

REPS participates in the Colorado Gun Shop Project, a program that encourages local gun owners to be “their brother’s keeper” and protect other gun owners struggling with mental illness by keeping firearms out of reach. REPS collaborates with local gun sellers, gun clubs and gun safety training programs to spread the message of gun safety as related to mental illness.

Community members and volunteers can get involved in communitywide suicide awareness and prevention efforts by hosting a REPS one-hour Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) training for their organization or business.

Volunteers, event sponsors and silent auction donations are all needed for the REPS fundraiser “Night of Hope and Healing” set for Oct. 7 at Old Town Pub in downtown Steamboat. Learn more about REPS at http://www.steamboatsuicideprevention.com or email repssteamboat@gmail.com.

Anyone in need of assistance due to suicide ideation can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

U.S. suicide facts in 2020

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

• In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide.

• Colorado ranked seventh in states with the highest suicide rates behind top Wyoming then Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho and Oklahoma.

• The age-adjusted suicide rate was 13.4 per 100,000 individuals.

• The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men. White males accounted for 69.6% of suicide deaths.

• Men died by suicide 3.8 times more than women.

• On average, 130 suicides occurred daily.

• Firearms accounted for 52.8% of all suicide deaths.


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