Mesa County suicides at all-time high

A new report shows the number of people who killed themselves in Mesa County reached all-time highs in 2007 and 2008, and suicide prevention experts acknowledge they’re having difficulty tackling a complex, misunderstood and underfunded issue.

Forty people committed suicide in 2007 in the county,  a number that grew by one last year, according to figures provided by the report, “Preventing Suicide in Colorado — Progress Achieved & Goals for the Future,” and Sheila Linwood, executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation.

In addition, Mesa County’s average rate per 100,000 people in the nine-year period since the implementation of a statewide suicide prevention plan increased slightly over the nine-year period that preceded the report.

Colorado’s average suicide rate declined, although it’s still sixth highest in the nation.

Officials encouraged about 80 people who turned out Saturday to review the report and participate in a fundraiser at Chipeta Golf Course not to be discouraged by the numbers.

They noted suicide is a problem with many variables that isn’t fixed easily.

“This is a public health issue. This is a mental health issue. We’ve got to get it out in the light,” said Zeik Saidman, associate director of centers at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Linwood attributed Mesa County’s steady or increasing suicides to the growing population and influx of energy workers. She said roughly half of those who took their lives in the past few years were construction workers, which is why the foundation trains workers in the gas fields to recognize signs that someone may be suicidal.

The foundation also has ramped up its efforts in local schools after what Linwood described as years of resistance from School District 51 officials. She said officials introduced a pilot program in 2005 to teach children to look for warning signs and help each other, but for the first two years the curriculum was optional and Fruita Middle School was the only school to participate. In 2006, four Mesa County children committed suicide.

In 2007, the district mandated the program in all middle schools and high schools. Since that year, no children have committed suicide, Linwood said.

The report, developed jointly by The Colorado Trust and Mental Health America of Colorado, offers four recommendations for future suicide prevention efforts:

• Augment the resources available to and capacity of the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention.

• Promote mental health literacy, with particular emphasis on increasing knowledge and changing attitudes about suicide.

• Expand access to mental health care, substance abuse treatment and crisis intervention services.

• Develop uniform, reliable data for the study and prevention of suicide.

The report can be downloaded at http://www.coloradotrust.org.


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