Businesses can target suicide issue

High suicide rates in Mesa County compared to the state and nation have a local prevention organization exploring new ways to create change.

Throughout September, Suicide Prevention Month, Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation is focusing on the role businesses could play, along with new ways to help the highest risk group — men.

“We’ve got a cross-section of businesses in Mesa County impacted by suicide every year. … This is a beginning effort to communicate with business people,” said Karen Levad, executive director.

The Business Leaders’ Town Hall Breakfast Meeting will be held 7 a.m. Wednesday at Colorado Mesa University Student Center. They will discuss what a company can do, introduce new online therapy for men and offer insight.

Underlying thoughts of suicide is depression, and a depressed employee may often be sick and not performing at top speed, Levad said, explaining the stake businesses have. However, many companies are not fully prepared to deal with this, she continued.

In 2011, 44 people committed suicide in Mesa County and of those, the majority were men ages 20 to 54. This puts the area above the national average and, as a state, Colorado ranks sixth for suicide deaths.

“I used to be tall before they started naming the statistics,” said Levad at a recent Grand Junction City Council meeting. “They just kind of wear you down. ...I know it’s going to take good leadership and strong commitment to recognize that, yes, we have some tragedy in our midst.”

Another population heavily affected is teenagers, with suicide being one of the leading causes of death.

Chuck Kornman, suicide prevention instructor and executive assistant at Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation, is working with seventh-graders at Holy Family Catholic School, teaching them to value each other and providing resources.

Kornman, 89, who has been working with the organization for five years, hopes to help them understand “who (they are) makes a difference,” he said.

“My first encounter, I was about eight, maybe 14 years old,” Kornman said about the importance and having discussions with this segment of the population.

And it wasn’t his last. As a teenager, Kornman’s brother killed himself.

“The numbers are just staggering,” Kornman said, adding that for every person who completes suicide, there are up to 25 who attempt it.

While the reason for the higher local numbers, which jumped in 2011, is not known, Levad believes there is a connection with mental health spending.

Colorado rates 46th in the nation for per-capita spending on mental health issues, “which means we’re not placing a lot of value on our mental well-being,” she said. This, coupled with the stigma associated with seeking treatment, is likely a contributing factor, she said.

The message Levad wants people to have is that depression is treatable and suicide is usually preventable.

Armed with a new tool, a website designed for men, she is hoping to impact this group that is five times more likely to die by suicide than women.

“There’s a lot to be said about being able to sit in your home with your computer,” she said. “I think many of us are getting medical advice that way.”

The interactive site, http://www.mantherapy.org, was introduced about a month ago and is already receiving feedback and good traffic, she said.


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