Join us in breaking the silence surrounding suicide
Twice in the last year, Karen Levad has pressed the tip of a pen to paper and written to the family of a Mesa County resident who completed suicide. She’ll do it again soon, following the recent death of a local business owner.
In those letters she expresses her condolences — and her gratitude for their public acknowledgment of the painful but important truth about how their father, mother, daughter or son died.
Of course, the executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation would rather never compose this sort of note. But the fact that she’s doing it this year, for the first time in all her years of combating suicide, is perhaps an indication that the veil of secrecy is losing its grip.
And if she and other local suicide prevention advocates and mental health service providers are to ever gain the upper hand on a complex problem that has vexed this community for far too long, they need others to exhibit the courage to open up.
For healing to occur, for the stigma to be washed away, for meaningful change to occur, Levad believes honesty is essential.
“If we can’t talk about (suicide), we can’t do anything about it,” said Levad, who still has the shotgun she took away from her father when he threatened suicide more than 30 years ago. “And it paralyzes those of us who are survivors, because if we don’t know about it, how can we comfort them?”
Starting today and continuing for three more days, The Daily Sentinel will explore suicide in Mesa County — the rates that are among the highest in the nation, the myriad reasons why our relatives, friends and neighbors choose to end their lives, the ongoing efforts to reverse the trends and the personal accounts of both survivors left behind and those who tried to take their own lives. All of them have important messages to share.
We hope you’ll take the time to digest the stories, pore over the graphics, look closely at the photos and watch a video interview with a professional who offers advice on how to talk with someone you think may be suicidal.
I don’t know that we can point to a primary impetus for exploring this tough subject. Perhaps it’s because we too often hear the newsroom police scanner crackle with reports of a person who wants to end his or her life, or, in fact, has. Perhaps it’s because my wife too frequently laments the loss of another Fruita Monument High School classmate — all before the age of 35. Probably it’s because it’s time to do more than shake our heads and move on to the next story.
Some believe suicide is a problem relegated to narrowly defined segments of the population or the fringes of society — depressed teenagers and young adults, old white men with firearms, senior citizens with severe health problems.
But the fact is, in 2011, 60 percent of the people who committed suicide in Mesa County were between the ages of 30 and 65, according to the Suicide Prevention Foundation. Most of the people who died were employed, nearly evenly divided between professionals and blue-collar workers. Last year, nearly half who took their own lives were between 30 and 49.
That’s the longtime local business manager, the recently discharged military veteran, the police officer, the avid cyclist.
That’s you and me.
“Any time you bring up the topic of suicide, people think of youths. And appropriately so, because we see greater tragedy in the deaths of youths,” Levad said.
“But if we have limited resources, we ought to be focusing more on that 60 percent.”
To conclude the series, The Daily Sentinel will host a public forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Whitman Educational Center, 248 S. Fourth St. Reporters Emily Shockley and Amy Hamilton will discuss the series. Officials from agencies with Mind Springs Health, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Mesa County Health Department, the Suicide Prevention Foundation and others will talk about current trends and the work they’re doing to stem the tide.
We invite you to join us, ask questions and participate in a conversation. It’s not a comfortable issue to delve into. But remaining silent is even more unsettling.