Suicide: the dialogue no community wants

Suicide. The word is lethal in more ways than one.

It kills conversations. The uncomfortable silence that follows is emblematic of the challenge to do something about it.

How do you solve a problem no one wants to talk about?

If you’ve never been touched by suicide, consider yourself lucky. Especially if you live in Mesa County, where the suicide rate in some years has been three times the national average.

This newspaper hasn’t shied away from covering the impact of suicide on our community. Survivors have bravely shared their stories in the hopes of sparing others the agony of losing a friend or family member to suicide.

Awareness is a key component of any prevention campaign. Which is precisely why we feel compelled to write about this disquieting topic as often as we do. You don’t solve problems by ignoring them.

On Thursday’s front page, Mike Wiggins recounted Mesa County’s latest effort to reverse a troubling trend. More than 1,000 Mesa County residents were hospitalized following suicide attempts between 2003 and 2012. In 2012, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death, more than double the rate of fatal diabetes cases.

Such figures led the Mesa County Health Department to conduct a health impact assessment of suicide prevention efforts. It calls suicide a “significant threat” to public health.

Kelli Kessell, the director of continuing medical education at St. Mary’s hospital, spoke Wednesday during a presentation of the assessment’s findings. In spite of the county’s high suicide rate, some medical practitioners in Mesa County think “this isn’t that big of a deal,” Kessell said. “We have to work on changing that attitude.”

The study’s findings address a wide range of factors: a high incidence of gun-related suicides, the impact of prescription drug misuse, the vulnerability of certain demographic groups, and the lack of “drop-in” mental health services, among others.

Perhaps the most significant finding —  and the basis for the systematic changes recommended — is this: “Mesa County primary care, emergency departments, and public health practitioners in the community lack training in, and a community-wide standard for, screening and assessing behavioral health conditions” contributing to suicide, the study says.

We’re grateful the health department undertook the task of examining suicide prevention efforts and how they can be improved. It will take time to implement the changes, but the study is a good start.

In the meantime, we can all make a difference by consciously minimizing the stigma attached to seeking help.

The Suicide Prevention Foundation operates a 24-7 hotline, 888-207-4004, that is available for people thinking about suicide and for the people who want to offer help to friends or family.


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