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Suicide rate high in Garfield County

For a place of great natural beauty ” a place that attracts people who live the healthy outdoor life ” Garfield County has a dark secret.

The county, indeed the entire state of Colorado, has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

According to Jackie Skramstad, program director with Colorado West Counseling Services in Glenwood Springs, Garfield County has one of the highest rates of suicide in a state that ranks seventh in the U.S. for suicides.



It has long been a touchy subject, unspoken in families who have experienced death of a loved one by suicide, and a matter of shame.

“Suicide is so hurtful to families,” said Garfield County Public Health Nurse Sandra Barnett. “There’s a stigma about it.”



To meet the need for affordable treatment and prevention education, Skramstad and the county public health nurses have formed the Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition. The idea behind the coalition, which includes representatives from area law enforcement agencies, local hospitals, the judicial district and the school districts, is to get it out of the closet and into the mainstream.

“We want to get people talking about it,” Skramstad said.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s injury, suicide and violence prevention section, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Colorado after unintentional injuries.

Colorado’s suicide rate is 15.8 per 100,000 people, compared to the nationwide rate of 10.8 percent, Skramstad said.

More people die of suicide than are killed in motor vehicle crashes. Statistics also show that the rate is four times higher for males (26.1 per 100,000 people) than for females (6.6 per 100,000). White non-Hispanic males account for almost 70 percent of all suicide deaths in Colorado.

Nationally, high-risk groups, those most likely to attempt suicide, include young females ages 15 to 24 who have the highest rate of suicide attempts. Middle-aged males have the highest number of deaths. And suicidal behavior is on the rise among children ages 10 to 14.

Garfield County has a suicide death rate of 16.2 per 100,000 people. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, suicide rates are higher in West Slope counties than counties in and around the Front Range metro areas.

Why is the rate so high in the state and Garfield County?

“There are a lot of theories,” Skramstad said. “There is a higher percentage in the West, maybe due to the accessibility of firearms and a strong independent Western attitude” that people can solve problems on their own rather than seek help.

“Studies show that (with) people who die by suicide, there are signs, and you can intervene,” Barnett said.

Initially, the group hopes to identify what particular population in the county is most vulnerable to suicide.

The Mesa County suicide coalition analyzed death certificates and found that suicide rates were highest among construction workers, Skramstad said.

Eventually, they would like to set up a 24-hour crisis line for people to call who are contemplating suicide, manned by trained volunteers. They are also planning to distribute literature that lists the warning signs for suicide and how to help someone in distress and a listing of local resources.

As with other mental health issues, treatment services are few.

“Even for those wanting to seek help, it’s so expensive,” Skramstad said.

The coalition will also prepare a program for kids and offer it through the schools.

To secure some funding for the venture, the group has joined with the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation, which raises and distributes funds throughout the West Slope.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, the foundation will kick off a regional fundraising effort with a three-mile Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Grand Junction. The walk will take place at Connected Lakes State Park and Wildlife Area and will begin at Albertson’s Shopping Center at 2512 Broadway. Registration and check-in begins at 8 am., and the walk starts at 9 a.m.

“A lot of people do (the walk) in memory of someone they’ve lost to suicide,” Barnett said.

For information about the Out of the Darkness Walk or the suicide prevention coalition, call Sandra Barnett at 945-6614, ext. 1040.

Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510

dgray@postindependent.com


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