PI Editorial: We can talk about #brainpain, really we can
Suicide crisis and mental health resources
Hope Center crisis line: 970-925-5858
Mind Springs crisis: 888-207-4004
Aspenstrong.org (mental health services)
Mantherapy.org (geared toward men)
Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 (TALK), or text TALK to 38255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
An increase in the number of suicides in Garfield County has been a growing concern for many years; even more so in the past year as the upward trend continues.
Garfield County public health officials were alarmed last summer when there was a sudden spike of six suicide deaths in July alone.
According to Mason Hohstadt, who chairs the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Garfield County, by the conclusion of 2018 the county coroner’s office had investigated 19 suicide deaths.
Two of those cases involved persons who did not live in Garfield County, according to the coroner’s office; 17 involved people who were our neighbors.
So far this year, not even three months in, the coroner’s office has investigated six suicide deaths, five involving Garfield County residents.
One was a fairly high-profile case involving a woman who was well-known in the community who was hit by an unknown vehicle, possibly a semi, and killed on Interstate 70. Investigations confirmed what many people suspected in reading about that case; that it was a suicide.
Also recently, we’re advised that the death of another well-known person in our community was a suicide.
Maybe, just maybe, we could have helped in some way. That’s often what goes through the heads of family, friends and even casual acquaintances when they learn someone they know has taken their own life.
There are no guarantees that recognizing a sign that someone may be in a bad place and contemplating suicide and confronting them about it will prevent them from following through.
But it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes, those signs may be absent altogether, leading us to believe through our encounters with each other that everything is fine.
It’s still worth the effort to ask if everything is really all as rosy.
According to Hohstadt, who receives his information from the coroner’s office, since 2015, there have been 58 suicide deaths in Garfield County. You might find a few surprises within that number:
• 48 were male, 10 female
• 40 fell between the “working ages” of 25-64
• 31 involved firearms as the means
• 27 had either a known diagnosis of depression or were reported to be depressed by family or friends. Another 16 people had a diagnosis of anxiety.
• Only 15 had no known mental health diagnosis
• Another 15 had no known history of alcohol or drug use
• 16 people left a note — a sign of premeditation, or having the forthwith to write something.
• 29 had disclosed to someone that they were considering suicide.
Within these numbers are some stark reminders that someone who is thinking about suicide may very well be inclined to reach out for help. So, what do we say if they do?
A lot of it is about removing the stigma for an individual or their family to admit help is needed and to seek out that help. We have numerous resources right here in the Roaring Fork Valley where help is available (see separate information box).
Signs to watch for in our dealings with family members, friends and neighbors include observing how people respond to major life changes. Behavior changes such as anger, anxiety, drug use, lack of hygiene, not sleeping, or sleeping too much, are all signs that something isn’t right.
Listen for phrases like, “it’d be better if I wasn’t here,” or “I just can’t do this anymore.”
Hohstadt offers this conversation starter if you find that you’re worried about someone.
“Start the conversation by saying, ‘Are you OK?’ and then, “I’ve noticed (this or that behavior), and I’m worried about you.’
“People who have been suicidal report a sense of relief that someone noticed their pain and was willing to ask and get the conversation started,” Hohstadt offers, adding, “we have to do better about talking about our #brainpain (a term coined by suicide survivor and speaker Kevin Hines).”
Sometimes it just takes more courage to seek help than to commit suicide. A little encouragement from someone who notices could make a big difference.
One bit of good news, Hohstadt adds, is that nearly 90 percent of people who are unsuccessful in a suicide attempt go on to lead productive lives.
What if someone asked that “are you OK” question before it even got to that point? It might be the most important question you ever ask of someone.
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Garfield County Public Health does not have immediate plans to run an off-site community drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic like the one now operating in Pitkin County.