Suicide is not only one of the leading causes of death in the United States — but it is also one of the most preventable. The Center for Mental Health will host a community presentation and discussion about preventing suicide tomorrow, March 17, from 5:30-7:00 PM at the Michael D. Palm Theatre.
“Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide don’t go on to die by suicide,” observed Paul Reich, community relations liaison for The Center, who, along with licensed psychologist and certified addictions counselor Dr. Nicolas Taylor, will lead tomorrow’s discussion. “How do we build in some supports for people so that when they face challenges in their lives, their answer is not suicide?”
Telluride Medical Center behavioral health counselor Dr. Lindsey Wright, and local licensed professional counselor Mandy Miller, will also be on hand for the presentation, along with personnel from Tri-County Health Network.
“What we’ve found when we’ve done these presentations in other communities is that it’s great to have providers there because everybody has different ideas and perspectives,” said Reich. “It’s also a conversation.”
Together these mental health specialists will explore some of the reasons for the high rate of suicide in rural Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West while providing guidance on how to recognize warning signs and risk factors and how to take action to prevent suicides.
According to San Miguel Coroner Emil Sante, there were four suicides across San Miguel County last year, and none so far this year. Reich reports that The Center saw 827 clients at the crisis walk-in center last year in Montrose; 33 were San Miguel County residents.
When asked why suicide numbers are high in our region, Reich pointed to specific “stressors.”
“We have a lot of housing and economic insecurity; you’re either feast or famine with 60-hour work weeks or no employment for a couple of months because it’s off-season,” he explained. “The amount of substance use is notable, which lowers inhibitions and creates more impulsive activity. This place attracts risk-takers and risky behaviors, and there’s also a fair amount of social isolation. We’re mostly all transplants here.”
By opening up a conversation about suicide, Reich hopes people will recognize that this is a topic that’s okay to talk about — such discussions are (still) often buried deep in the closet.
“It gives people the opportunity to work through some feelings they may have about suicide or the loss of a loved one to suicide, and people may find a safe space here where they can learn more about suicide and feel comfortable sharing,” he said.
The Center has offered similar presentations in Montrose and Gunnison and has one coming up in Crested Butte. Reich reports that some attendees have had friends die by suicide while they were in the system at the time, getting help. They wonder why did these friends die?
“That’s hard for people to understand. While we say that suicide is preventable, we know we’re not going to prevent every suicide. And how do we deal with the anger and guilt? All those feelings are perfectly normal (in) an abnormal situation.”
Other common questions that have surfaced during past presentations include: how do you know when someone needs to get help? What’s the right way to talk to someone in this kind of distress? If you ask, “Are you going to kill yourself?” is that planting a dangerous seed in a vulnerable person’s mind? And how do you talk to younger children about this sensitive subject?
In his experience, Reich has found that of the people who’ve struggled with suicidal ideation or who’ve attempted or completed suicide, probably 40-50 percent did not have an underlying mental health challenge. Rather, they had a lot of stressors in their lives that added up to a point where they felt the only way out was suicide.
“This is something Nic and I will talk about,” explained Reich. “And it’s not just about mental illness. It’s more about how we, as a community, support one another when people face inevitable stresses, coupled with substance use and access to means like gun ownership. A lot of factors come into play in our mountain resort communities that open up that door for someone to take their life even if they aren’t living with depression.”
You can meet the presenters and other attendees and enjoy light snacks and refreshments from 5:30 to 6:00 PM tomorrow at The Palm. The presentation and discussion will start at 6:00 PM and will include an opportunity to ask questions and find information about community resources.
For more information about suicide and available support systems across the region, go to www.centermh.org.