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What can we do about suicide? WE CAN TALK

Michelle Muething
Contributed photo |

GET HELP

Call 911 if anyone is in danger

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

888-207-4004, Mind Springs Health crisis line

OTHER RESOURCES

Aspen Hope Center, 970-925-5858

Mantherapy.org, Colorado’s website geared toward men

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

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings

Narcotics Anonymous meetings

Al-Anon Family Groups

Mind Springs Health locations across the Western Slope

Online depression assessment

Also, Glenwood Springs HEARTBEAT group for survivors after suicide, meets every second Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Glenwood Methodist Church. Info: 970-945-1398

SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS

• 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

This is the first in a three-day series around the Aspen Hope Center’s “We Can Talk” campaign, encouraging people to open up and help reduce the stigma that’s often associated with mental-health issues and suicide.

There’s a fine line between encouraging people to seek help for their struggles with depression or thoughts of suicide and asking them to openly talk about it in the larger community.

On the one hand, “we want people to talk about these things, because that’s part of the healing,” said Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center, a nonprofit organization that provides access to mental-health services throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

“And we know a lot of people who are willing to do that,” she said.

At the same time, the Hope Center and the clinical therapists it works with have to be careful not to exploit people who are vulnerable, Muething emphasized.

For those who struggle with depression themselves, or who have been impacted and maybe have feelings of guilt about the loss of a loved one to suicide, it can often take many years to start talking about it openly themselves.

But the larger community can, and should, have that conversation, Muething said. In fact, it must. Suicide rates are higher in the mountain West and acute in resort communities. Colorado as a state has a much higher suicide rate — 19.7 per 100,000 people in 2012 — than the national average, which was 12.4 in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available.

Since the Hope Center launched its “We Can Talk” campaign last fall, more and more people are talking about mental health issues and the reality of suicide in the valleywide community.

“It has created a lot of positive energy, and has gotten people to come out and start talking about the issue,” Muething said. “Our goal is to raise awareness about mental health, reduce stigma and just get people talking.”

That’s also one of the messages the founders of the Glenwood Springs Heartbeat group, a support group for people who have lost a loved one or otherwise been impacted by suicide, have tried to emphasize.

STARTING THE CONVERSATION

“Until we start talking about it, and until we feel free to talk about suicide, it’s not going to get any better,” Pam Szedelyi, who co-founded the group along with Patti “Rock Star” Neuroth six years ago, said during a recent Rotary Club presentation in Glenwood Springs after the club lost one of its members to suicide.

Both women had lost their husbands to suicide about seven years ago, and admit it took them several years before they could begin having the conversation outside the support of people who had suffered similar losses.

“A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, and it’s hard to even walk through the door for one of our meetings, because people know it’s going to be emotional,” Neuroth said.

But it’s a start, she said. Over time, people will find they can open up about their loss, and the issue in general, in other settings, she said.

The harder thing is often to get people to listen to someone who wants to talk about mental illness, and to then carry that conversation forward, Neuroth said.

“Our willingness to talk about it is important, but it can be a really strange place, especially around other family members who don’t want you talking about it,” she said.

But you have to be prepared for the conversation, she adds.

That’s where organizations like the Aspen Hope Center, the Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the various clinical services offered through Mind Springs Health and local hospitals can help.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

One of the goals for the Aspen Hope Center in starting the “We Can Talk” campaign is to get the word out so that people know what is being done to address mental health issues and where to turn for help.

The Hope Center was established in 2010 following an assessment to determine what resources were needed to address mental health issues in Aspen and the greater Roaring Fork Valley. It’s approach is four-fold:

1. To be a referral service to the mental health resources that already exist in the area.

2. To operate a crisis hotline for those seeking help, and steering people in need of help to the Hope Center’s Intensive Outpatient Program.

3. Providing education and outreach in the larger community.

4. Community collaboration.

Because Colorado ranks near the bottom in mental health beds available for hospital-based program, the outpatient program is crucial, especially in more rural areas, Muething said.

In addition, a mental health hospital that deals with a large spectrum of mental illnesses may not be the best place for someone who has or may be diagnosed with clinical depression, she said.

The outpatient program “brings the hospital programs to the person,” she said, by assigning a therapist “sponsor” to check in on the person regularly over a period of time and provide intensive clinical support.

Since its inception, 109 people have gone through the program with a high success rate, Muething said, and anyone with more severe needs can be admitted to a hospital-based program.

The Hope Center’s education arm is an important one, because it strives to train lay people to recognize when someone may be dealing with depression, or even suicidal.

These special trainings can be arranged for community organizations or clubs, in the work place and even in schools.

“We teach people how to speak of the language of someone who is depressed, so that they can understand how to communicate,” Muething said. “We really do need the community to help us in this endeavor, and if we can train the community, then the community knows what to look for.”

The program is also being offered in middle and high schools throughout the valley.

“Research shows that kids don’t talk to adults about these things, they talk to other kids,” Muething said.

The Hope Center also collaborates with Valley View and Aspen Valley hospitals to provide support services and awareness programs. One such program takes place tonight from 6-7 p.m. at Valley View Hospital.

Led by Muething, the class will focus on learning how to recognize when someone is depressed and possibly contemplating suicide, and offer guidance in approaching someone who may need help. The class will also go over how the mental health system works.

For more information about tonight’s class, call (970) 384-6687.

(Wednesday: The story of a local resident who turned to the Aspen Hope Center’s crisis workers for help in dealing with her own struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. )


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