Suicide in the mountains: Instead of suicide, a second chance at life
Editor’s note: This is the final part in a four-part series looking at suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental health resources in the mountains.
Molly Fiore, of Vail, remembers feeling like nobody would understand her depression. She didn’t think she could talk to anyone about it, and said she never felt that asking for help was an option.
“I think it just goes to show how stuck I was,” she said. “It was such tunnel vision — I could only see this little tiny world I had created.”
It’s common for those outside of such a world to not know how to help. Whether it’s the bystander effect, a term Michelle Muething at the Aspen Hope Center uses when describing those who assume a person in need of help is already getting it, or simply a lack of training and education, those experiencing depression often feel as though they have to work through it alone.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth, which is why suicide prevention efforts at the state and local level are focusing on training and education. The Colorado legislature passed a bill on the last day of the session this year that paves the way for a statewide commission on suicide prevention. The state’s Office of Suicide Prevention will oversee the commission, which is designed to expand public-private partnerships and identify statewide priorities, said the Office of Suicide Prevention Manager Jarrod Hindman.
The commission is expected to have a mix of public and private representatives, suicide prevention experts, mental health experts and others, he said. The commission will work to find funding, among other challenges, for suicide prevention efforts in Colorado.
“Not enough people realize the real public-health impact suicide has,” Hindman said. “People generally think it’s a personal, private matter. … This is a disease almost every single time, just like people who die of cancer. People who die by suicide don’t want to be dead, they’re just in so much pain that they want it to end.”
A SECOND CHANCE
The topic of suicide prevention is gaining traction in Summit County where there isn’t a formalized suicide prevention group but Healthy Futures Initiative Coordinator Jordan Schultz said the nonprofit is planning some community education to begin in the fall.
Speak Up Reach Out, in Eagle County, does a one-hour program in Eagle County schools called Signs of Suicide. It shows children and teenagers different scenarios of depression and also addresses the difference between depression and suicide, said Speak Up’s Executive Director Erin Cochrane-Ivie. The nonprofit is also trying to host more frequent Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) training for businesses and school counselors in Eagle County.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen Hope Center has been hosting a slew of suicide prevention classes this year, as well as public forums about mental health. The Hope Center also teaches QPR training, as well as psychiatric emergency training, conflict avoidance and behavioral de-escalation.
“We’ve done suicide prevention trainings since 2010 and have trained over 3,000 people in the community,” Muething said.
Speak Up Reach Out is also trying to host more frequent QPR training for Eagle County businesses and school counselors.
Mind Springs Health hosts occasional Mental Health First Aid training throughout the region, an 8-hour course that teaches how to help someone facing a mental health crisis.
Even with trainings and discussions, there’s a recognition that it never seems to be enough.
“There’s no formal system to get treatment in place,” said Jill Squyres, an Eagle-based clinical psychologist who is also a Speak Up Reach Out board member. “I’m one of five part-time clinical psychologists in a county with 50,000 people. This is a big county to have such limited mental-health resources.”
An emergency room visit might address the immediate concern, but the hospital won’t hold a person who isn’t in need of physical health care. The only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City is West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction, and beds there are scarce.
There are an average of 14 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 people in the United States. The Colorado average is 10 beds per 100,000, and the average for the Western Slope is just six beds, according to Mind Springs Health.
There is a stabilization bed in Summit County, but it’s a very short-term solution. Otherwise the only option throughout the region is to go through Mind Springs Health and try to get a bed arranged in Grand Junction.
And while the resources aren’t what they could be in the region, there are always resources for people in need.
“When you talk to people who are feeling suicidal or have been rescued from an attempt, the vast majority of them are so glad because those feelings are very temporary for most people,” Squyres said.
So, what’s the best way to intervene? Just come right out and ask, Squyres said. Most people who are struggling will answer honestly.
“They’re so grateful they got a second chance at life,” she said. “When you intervene with someone, you’re giving them that chance. That’s why it’s worth going out of your comfort zone.”
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-777-3125.
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