Survivors of suicide victims seek solace

Ron Standing, of Grand Junction, listens to the music Sunday as he holds a lit candle in front of one of two quilts commemorating loved ones who have committed suicide, during a candlelight vigil and walk at Sherwood Park by members of Heartbeat, a survivors support group, and others involved in suicide prevention. Standing attended the vigil to support a friend whose son committed suicide.

Chester Little says people who come to the Heartbeat suicide survivor support group are there for two reasons mostly — to talk about their loss with others, and to say their loved one’s name aloud.

Sunday evening, members of the group met at Sherwood Park, talked about their family members and friends lost to suicide, and assembled a wall of photos, prayers and remembrances.

It’s likely they mentioned the names of those they’ve lost often during their candlelight vigil and walk around the park.

“The sweetest sound in the world is to hear your loved one’s name — by family, friends or acquaintances,” said Little, who heads the Heartbeat chapter along with his wife, Renee. They lost a son to suicide 21 years ago.

“Those are the faces of suicide,” Renee said, motioning to the wall.

Chester Little said one issue his group encounters is the stigma attached to suicide.

“There’s a real stigma in all cultures, but particularly in America, about suicide,” he said.

“If you have a loved one who died of suicide, people many times don’t know what to say to you — so they don’t say anything,” he said.

The issue of suicide is of particular concern in Mesa County, and statewide as well, based on some of the most recent statistics.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Colorado is tied with New Mexico in having the sixth-highest rate of suicide in the nation.

That elevated rate, combined with Colorado being 46th in the nation in terms of per-capita spending on mental-health issues, led Karen Levad, executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention, to recently say, “We’re not placing a lot of value on our mental well-being.”

And the numbers in Mesa County reflect a troubling trend as well. In 2011, 44 people committed suicide in Mesa County — up from 32 in 2010.

That trend may be mirroring a broader shift, as reported in a study last week based on data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. The report revealed that between 2000 and 2009, deaths from suicides rose 15 percent over that time.

According to the numbers, more Americans die by committing suicide than die in car crashes, and suicide is now the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States.


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