Suicide forum sparks sharing by community
A community suicide forum Tuesday night was filled to overflowing with nearly 150 community members, local leaders and mental health professionals seeking solutions to Mesa County’s high rate of suicide.
Some folks stood for nearly two hours, spilling into the hallways of the Department of Health and Human Services, for the chance to listen to stories and share their own experiences with mental health and suicide.
Approximately 43 suicides in Mesa County in 2016 — including the suicides of three high school students since August — prompted a flood of concern and calls for change from the community in recent months.
The forum was both a brainstorming session and a cathartic experience for people who have been affected by suicide, ranging from high school teachers to people who work in health care.
Bobbie Bueno, mother of Junior Bueno, the Grand Junction High School student who died from suicide in October, spoke through tears about her grief and her frustration with the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health.
“These kids have a voice also,” she said. “These kids are grieving for my son and for these other two students and they don’t know how to do it at school.”
At least 20 people spoke during the meeting. Some had questions about services, like how to get help late at night or when they didn’t feel like they could leave the house.
Many prefaced their comments with a simple statement: “I’m a suicide survivor.”
And while many expressed anger about the way they or their child had been treated by health care providers or teachers or peers, everyone talked about solutions, change and hope.
Sarah Robinson of the Mesa County Health Department was one of the forum’s moderators.
“I’m floored with how many people are willing to step up and talk about this issue,” she said. “Suicide affects everybody, so I think we heard tonight from everybody. I’m encouraged by the community’s response. It is incredibly impressive, and it’s amazing to be here and see people share at this level.”
Robinson wrote page upon page of notes and ideas as people talked about suicide prevention, awareness, training and how to heal in the aftermath.
Suggestions included developing a smartphone application with local, state and national information for mental health care, crisis intervention and suicide hotlines.
Others asked for paid professional training for school teachers and staff, or to recruit more community volunteers to train in crisis response and suicide intervention.
Pedro Ortiz came to the meeting with his wife and children because he’s noticed the increase in suicides.
“I think everybody is tired of seeing all of the lost lives,” he said. “People want to put a stop to this issue, and I think there are more people than there used to be who want to get involved and make it stop.”
That includes Ortiz, who said he’s been uncomfortable talking about it in the past.
“I want to get more involved,” he said. “People used to say it’s taboo to talk about, but it’s not with all of these people.”
The ideas from the forum will be compiled and posted to the Healthy Mesa County Facebook page in February.