How can we prevent suicide?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in Colorado, and the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 44.
In 2019, Routt County has seen two suicides. In Moffat County, there have been eight lives lost to suicide.
In 2018 in Colorado, 1,168 people ended their lives, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Men are twice as likely to die by suicide.
Suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tuesday is World Suicide Prevention Day, part of the National Suicide Prevention Week, and the entire month of September, aimed at engaging health professionals and the general public around the difficult topic.
- Comments or thoughts about suicide (suicidal ideation)
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
While it has long been considered taboo — and even risky — to talk about suicide, there is now a big push for de-stigmatization and increased awareness and conversation.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline advises that “Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.”
Stephanie Monahan, executive director of The Health Partnership, is also working to de-stigmatize suicide and mental health and create a local support system — a brick house made up of community members and organizations that can be relied upon when people find themselves in a storm.
Everyone has mental health, Monahan notes. Just like physical health. And just as we are susceptible to physical injury, she said, we are susceptible to mental health issues — whether that be a brief bout of despair or anxiety, a deep depression or more extreme suicidal ideation.
Built from the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, this year’s Wellness Conference on Nov. 1 will have a special focus on connecting resources and creating that “brick house” and strong community support network. Monahan wants help to be readily available to any and all and for everyone to feel comfortable asking for help.
Suicide can be prevented, REPS (Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide) Executive Director Mindy Marriott wrote in a news release. “And it takes all of us.” Start by understanding risk factors, she said, which can include a family history of suicide or child abuse, a history of mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse, local epidemics of suicide, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, isolation, loss, physical illness and easy access to lethal methods.
- Local Crisis Hotline: 1-888-207-4004 or text TALK to 38255
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and online chat: 1-800-273-8255
Protective factors, Marriott wrote, can act as a buffer from suicidal thoughts and behavior, and include effective mental and physical health care and treatment, family and community support in seeking treatment and social connectedness.
REPS offers free therapy and counseling services to anyone having a mental health crisis or suffering from suicidal ideation. Funded through private donors and grants, REPS will reimburse contracted providers for five free therapy sessions.
Thus far, the service is under-utilized, Marriott said, and she is working to spread the word.
One way to get involved is as a Suicide Prevention Advocate volunteer.
The unique program is a collaboration between REPS and UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center — utilizing a team of trained volunteers on-call 24/7 to “act as an advocate to those who have had suicide ideation or a suicide attempt.”
There is a big need for more volunteers, said Marriott. They want to fill every 12-hour shift, during which a volunteer provides support during hospital stays, as well as follow-up care and connection to resources. There are four free trainings held each year.
Another free training provided by REPS is called QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer.
The training is available to any organization or group that requests it. There were 18 trainings in 2018 and 14 so far in 2019.
According to the QPR Institute, “Just as people trained in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help.”
The next QPR Training will take place Sept. 26 at 9:30 a.m. at Sotheby’s in Steamboat Springs.
Despite the two deaths by suicide in the county this year, Marriott said, “REPS has made tremendous impacts in the community by raising awareness about REPS organization and programs, offering education and support for those in crisis and providing free training for more than 600 people in our community.”
One of the year’s biggest accomplishments, she said, has been the establishment of a monthly support group for survivors of suicide.
Those left behind often experience a wide range of painful and complicated emotions and reactions in addition to the tremendous grief — such as trauma, guilt, anger, shame, rejection and confusion.
And, because of the stigma attached to suicide, support for those survivors most in need can be hard to find.
The support group is open to all, and meets on the second Tuesday of the month at the Rollingstone Respite House at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, contact Marriott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-846-8182.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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