Steamboat forum confronts suicides |

Steamboat forum confronts suicides

Therapists and survivors discuss suicide prevention

John Fleeker, county director for Steamboat Mental Health, speaks at a community meeting about suicide at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Thursday.
Scott Franz


To learn more about Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and their programs, visit or call 970-879-2141.

— Attendees of a community forum addressing recent suicides in Routt County learned as much from each other Thursday night as they did from a panel that consisted of medical professionals, suicide survivors, grief counselors and a chaplain. More than 50 people attended the meeting at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Audience members shared stories of their personal battles with depression with the panel, and how they were able to cope with the pain associated with the suicide of a loved one. The panel then offered the community a variety of suggestions on how to approach an individual who might be considering the act, and where they could find help in the community.

“We had 33,000 suicides in this country in 2006, which is more than the number of homicides,” said Ronna Autrey, director of the Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide group, which organized the meeting. “People are not talking about this, but we need to be.”

Panelists sought to deconstruct the stigma that they said often is associated with suicides by sharing their own survivor stories and making sure audience members know where to find help in the community. One audience member was concerned that not everyone would be able to afford necessary treatment or counseling for a mental illness, but the panelists wanted to make sure everyone knew where they could find help.

“We’re not going to turn people away,” Autrey said. “Our REPS support groups are free.”

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

John Fleeker, county director for Steamboat Mental Health, discussed ways to help identify someone who might be suffering from severe depression and how to steer that individual away from potential thoughts of suicide.

“One of the things that is very important is that if you suspect someone is suicidal, I want you to talk with them,” he said. “Don’t leave them alone. Getting them to talk about the pain will help them.”

Dave McKnight, chaplain for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, agreed.

“By asking someone whether they are having suicidal thoughts, you can never be responsible for planting that idea in their head,” McKnight said. “I have put people in my car and driven them to the mental health facility. I wait outside until I am sure they are able to talk to someone.”

In addition to educational forums such as Thursday’s community meeting, REPS has a monthly speaker series at Yampa Valley Medical Center, as well as a program that trains people to better recognize the warning signs associated with suicide.

Brian Hoza, dean of student affairs for Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus, said he enjoyed the variety of perspectives the panel had to offer at the meeting. He said it was important to stay in tune with the community in the wake of the recent suicides in Steamboat Springs.

“It was very helpful,” he said. “There were a great variety of perspectives speaking to different people in the room.”

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