Prevention of suicide becomes top local priority

Foundation's new director wants to shed taboo, get people talking

Distributing anti-suicide information and getting people to talk about the issue that has long been viewed as taboo is the first step to reducing Mesa County’s staggering rate of suicide.

More of those efforts may be visible in the community in the coming months and years, now that the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation has named Karen Levad as its new executive director.

Levad has a history with suicide prevention work in Mesa County. She was hired in 2003 to serve as the coordinator for the Mesa County Suicide Prevention Coalition, a position that was funded through The Colorado Trust.

“We let the community down in not getting a director,” said Kim Hollingshead, deputy director of the Mesa County Coroner’s Office. The foundation had been without a leader for the past two years.

“It’s the key to communications,” Hollingshead added.

Since the beginning of the year, 22 people in Mesa County have committed suicide. Last year, 44 residents committed suicide. That staggering number prompted officials and the community to attempt to increase efforts at preventing suicide.

Stakeholders on Wednesday tossed about numerous ideas about how to get people talking about suicide as well as the depression and despair that often lead up to suicide during a meeting of the Suicide Prevention Coalition.  Some of those campaigns will be unveiled in September, which is Suicide Prevention Month.

Foundation members also were introduced to a new website,, an informational campaign that targets men ages 25 to 54. Men in that age group are identified as the highest risk to commit suicide in Colorado. In an effort to target those men, the foundation recently received a grant of $10,000 from the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention.

News of the recent suicide of a prominent community member, Tim Sewell, may result in mixed reactions in the community, Levad said. Many people were touched by his death, foundation members said.

Levad said on the one hand, though unfortunate, Sewell’s suicide allows people to talk more openly about depression and suicide. However, a suicide of a high-profile person also may unwittingly invite copycat actions.

“I think out of this tragedy comes an opportunity for people to recognize their own vulnerability,” Levad said.

To learn more about the Suicide Prevention Foundation or to get involved, visit


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