Suicides in Mesa County approaching record
A 20-year-old man who died near Bookcliff Liquor Store on Wednesday is the 43rd Mesa County person this year to take their own life, the coroner’s office confirmed Thursday.
With deaths by suicide in 2016 nearing the county’s all-time high — 47 deaths in 2012 — Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation Executive Director Martha Graf said a desire to understand and combat the factors that influence suicide is growing.
The deaths of three former or current Grand Junction High students prompted community attention and response from School District 51 this fall; but Graf said she thinks the desire for a way to help has been growing for some time now.
“It feels cumulative to me,” Graf said. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook. … There are a lot of people hurting and a lot of people have questions. Our community is working on a solution.”
Graf said she’s hearing from people from all walks of life: business owners, parents, students, agencies, professionals.
“Counselors are coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’” she said. “We all play a role.”
Graf said several different organizations — including her foundation, School District 51 and the county health department — are partnering to try to identify and combat suicide factors.
“We came together around the November student suicide and then I think we’re going to stick together and the group is going to get larger as we progress through next year,” Graf said.
Graf’s group and the school district recently hosted four suicide intervention trainings to teach students and local residents concrete steps for what to do if they believe a friend, family member or acquaintance is contemplating suicide. The Mesa County Health Department has a public meeting scheduled in January to hear the community’s thoughts on how suicide prevention should happen.
Graf said information-gathering efforts will lead to more definite plans for how to combat suicide next year.
“We’re going to hit hard, come up with a community-wide suicide prevention plan, and look at what needs to be done,” Graf said.
Graf said the best thing concerned Mesa County residents can do is connect with the people around them. While family members of most suicide victims in 2015 reported they seemed depressed in the time before their deaths, less than half of them sought mental health services, according to the Mesa County Coroner’s Office.
“If you worry about somebody, ask them if they’re suicidal. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation,” Graf said. “Your words matter, so watch what you say. Be helpful. Be kind.”
While conventional wisdom says suicide is a greater danger during the holidays, statistics in Mesa County don’t bear that out; the local coroner’s office said local data doesn’t lend itself to any seasonal trend, and Graf said people can sometimes be at greater risk after the holidays are over.
“We just have to be vigilant, now and after,” Graf said.
The 20-year-old man’s death was followed within the hour Wednesday by the death of a 16-year-old boy in Midlands Village; the two incidents are unrelated, the coroner’s office wrote in a release. Thursday evening, that office had not completed an investigation of how the teen died.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Callers remain anonymous. Alternately, people can receive counsel by text by texting the word “start” to 741-741.
Also, watch this video for advice about talking to someone who may be contemplating suicide.