Our View: Addressing the human factor | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Addressing the human factor

Editorial board

Suzanne Schlicht, publisher and COO

Lisa Schlichtman, editor

Jim Patterson, assistant editor

Tom Ross, reporter

Diane Moore, community representative

Carl Steidtmann, community representative

At issue

Given the disproportionately high suicide rate in Routt County, a coordinated, caring response to the families and friends left behind is crucial

Our view

Area law enforcement and local mental health agencies should meet in a spirit of

collaboration to develop a system of responding to all aspects of this tragic reality

Few of the realities we humans face are as painful and traumatic as the passing of a loved one, whether it comes as a peaceful harbor at the end of a long, full life or a capricious and cruel thief in the night.

But how much more painful and traumatic when death comes by way of the deceased’s own hand? And how can we — as a community — best respond to someone whose loved one has ended his or her own life?

Sadly, this sort of unthinkable tragedy has become nauseatingly commonplace in our tranquil little valley. With an average of six or more residents each year taking their own lives, Routt County routinely posts a suicide rate more than twice the national average. This year alone, six of our neighbors — likely in a transitory instant of seemingly hopeless despair — have opted for a permanent escape from a temporary problem.

It is vital we seek ways to curb this growing epidemic that needlessly extinguishes so many promising lives, yet it is perhaps of equal importance that we develop collaborative ways to better reach out to the people who are left to wander the smoldering abyss left in the wake of such senseless, inexplicable loss.

We realize a suicide scene requires investigation and may well become a crime scene, and for this reason, law enforcement personnel must act as the first response. But when the human factor makes its entrance — the family and friends left to try and reassemble the jagged shards of their shattered worlds — such a scene becomes more than an area to be taped off and photographed or a collection point for evidence to be bagged and processed. For these people, the scene transcends the idea of place and circumstance, metastasizing into a permanent, physical manifestation of unimaginable grief, anger and self-recriminations.

And it is with regard to this area — the human factor — we feel more must be done to develop a holistic, collaborative approach to this tragically commonplace occurrence.

In an article published one week ago in Steamboat Pilot & Today, local police and mental health officials alike acknowledged our response in the aftermath of a suicide is lacking, though it remains unclear precisely where the deficiency lies.

Steamboat Springs’ newly installed police chief, Cory Christensen, said his officers are trained to offer resources, such as Mind Springs, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide or Advocates, to the family members left behind, but he added those resources aren’t always welcomed — and are sometimes harshly rejected — by the grief-stricken loved ones of suicide victims.

“The officers automatically offer resources, but we don’t force it upon the individuals,” Christensen said.

At the same time, however, representative of both Mind Springs and REPS said they are not being contacted by police in the aftermath of suicides as frequently as they once were. And while Mind Springs typically doesn’t respond directly to suicide scenes, REPS said it thinks such responses are needed and has expressed a willingness to undertake them.

We agree with Christensen: Mental health and counseling services should not be forced upon families devastated by unimaginable shock and grief. But those services should be made available to such families, and despite the best of intentions, it seems to us this is not always done effectively.

With a new chief at the helm of the police department, we are hopeful that will soon change. Noting that the police department for several years relied on the services of a volunteer, non-denominational chaplain to respond to suicides when requested — a role that has been vacant for some time — police officials are hopeful someone else in the community might be able to step into the role.

SSPD Captain Jerry Stabile called the chaplain “an unbelievable resource,” and Christensen said it was something he “would love to get … back in place.”

Such statements are encouraging, and we see the renewed dialogue and the police department’s willingness to bring other resources to bear as an opportunity to improve our collective response to these tragic events.

It is our sincere hope that the police department, Mind Springs, REPS and other agencies will come together to develop a holistic and compassionate response plan to these heart-rending

tragedies, a plan that relies not on the isolated expertise of a single agency, but rather the comprehensive skills and compassion of the entire community.

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