We must talk about suicide | PostIndependent.com

We must talk about suicide

Pam Szedelyi
John Stroud / Post Independent |

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911 if anyone is in danger

1-800-273-8255, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

888-207-4004, Mind Springs Health crisis line


• Threatening to hurt or kill oneself, looking for means (such as firearms) to kill oneself, and talking or writing about death or suicide.

• Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use

• No sense of purpose in life

• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time

• Feeling trapped

• Hopelessness

• Withdrawal from friends, family and society

• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge

• Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors, seemingly without thinking

• Dramatic mood changes.


Mantherapy.org, Colorado’s website geared toward men

To check the schedule for mental health first aid classes:


Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition, information on prevention classes, 970-948-6108

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings: http://www.aa-westerncolorado.org

Narcotics Anonymous meetings: http://www.na.org/meetingsearch

Mind Springs Health locations across the Western Slope: http://www.mindspringshealth.org/treatment/locations

Find a licensed psychologist in your community for ongoing therapy.

Online depression assessment: psychologytoday.tests.psychtests.com

Working through the guilt was the hardest part of the grieving process for Pam Szedelyi after her husband, Tom, decided to take his own life nine years ago.

“When someone dies by suicide it adds another level of grief,” said Szedelyi, who co-founded the Heartbeat support group in Glenwood Springs for people who have lost a loved one to suicide or have otherwise been affected by suicide.

There’s “shame,” she said, and of course the stigma of suicide that often keeps people from being honest about how someone died when the obituary appears in the newspaper, or to even want to talk about it afterward.

“But until we start talking about it, and feel free to talk about suicide, it’s not going to get any better,” Szedelyi said Friday during a presentation to members of the Glenwood Springs Rotary Club. The club lost a younger member to suicide just before Christmas.

The club didn’t have a program scheduled for the meeting, given it was a holiday week and the fact that several members were out of town, explained club program director Steve Shute.

But the news that one of their own who seemed so full of life and laughter had taken his life “just knocked me on my ass,” Shute said.

So he invited Szedelyi to come talk to the club as a way to help he and fellow members through their own grieving process.

For Szedelyi, her guilt had to do with a decision, after a distressed phone conversation with her husband who had started drinking again after being sober for a long period of time, to take some extra time to think about what to say when she got home. By the time she did, it was too late.

“It took me several years to work through that,” she said. “Instead of going directly home, I drove around and thought about how I was going to talk to him about resigning his job and selling the ranch and doing what we needed to do to work through this.

“I really believed I could have prevented it,” Szedelyi said.

Sadly, though, often little can be done to prevent someone from taking their own life, and “statistics show that if someone wants to leave us, they will find a way to leave us.”

Getting someone into professional therapy who suffers from depression or other forms of mental illness, or who has substance abuse issues, is an important step, she said.

Even then, Szedelyi points to statistics suggesting that 50 percent of suicides involve people who have recently been to a therapy session.

Whenever someone takes their life, loved ones and friends ask the obvious question: Why?

“It’s imponderable to most of us how that can happen,” Szedelyi said. “But we have learned some things.”

Like the link between suicide and mental health and how people “push it down,” often for many, many years, until the pain becomes intolerable, she said.

“The absence of mental health resources is very severe in this state,” she said of another hurdle to finding help for people who need it.

Or the link to substance abuse.

“Every one in three suicides, the person was either intoxicated or high, and not making good judgments,” she said.

The risk of suicide also increases among those who have been impacted as a witness to or losing a loved one or friend to suicide, Szedelyi also shared.

“We have gone a long way to remove some of the stigma around it, by trying to understand it more,” she said.

But more can be done, she added, such as using the term “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide.” The latter implies that it was a “crime” or a “sin,” Szedelyi said, “none of which is true.”

In reaching out to someone who has been affected by suicide, such as a spouse or children, it’s also important to really mean it when offering, “if there’s anything I can do …” she said.

Szedelyi related the story of someone who, like herself, lost her husband to suicide and was comforted by friends who said they remembered all the fun times they had together. Yet she was never invited again to those barbecues, raft trips and other “fun things” after the suicide.

The Heartbeat group was founded by Szedelyi and Glenwood Springs resident and business owner Patti Rock Star, who also lost her husband to suicide. It meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs, offering peer support for anyone free of charge who has lost a loved one or been impacted in any way by suicide.

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