Suicide rates high in county

Group says it is making progress in curbing deaths

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— Since 1995, 25 suicides have occurred in Routt County.

But members of a local initiative believe they are making progress in curbing Routt County's suicide rate, which is higher than state and national averages.

National 24-hour suicide hotline: (800) 784-2433 Mental Health Crisis Line 870-1244 Steamboat Mental Health 879-2141 In emergency situations 911 Community Bereavement Support Group for survivors 879-1632

In 1998, the Suicide Crisis Intervention Life Line was formed to tackle one of Routt County's most serious issues.

"Our county has been very high with suicides," said Steamboat Mental Health Program Director Tom Gangel, who is a member of the volunteer initiative.

"But we are making progress. What we have done has clearly raised the awareness."

Raising awareness means getting out to the community that there is help available for anyone suicidal.

Awareness is also raised during National Suicide Prevention Week, which is May 6-12.

Officials believe the work they have been doing in the past two years has made a difference.

Last year, Routt County had at least 150 contacts related to suicide, or suicidal ideation, that required Steamboat Mental Health contact.

Steamboat Mental Health is the county's emergency service provider.

"Our emergency service workers are receiving more telephone calls," Gangel said.

"More people are starting to come for us for possible answers. Our calls increased by about 25 percent."

A major tool the initiative has used to get its message out about suicide prevention is the use of a half-hour videotape that documents the impact someone's suicide can have on family and friends.

In 1998, Josh Campbell, a student at Colorado Mountain College, committed suicide.

"His family approached us and wanted to use his death as a way to prevent deaths like this from occurring," said Linda Mitchum, a volunteer coordinator for the Visiting Nurse Association and a member of the initiative. "The video helps people understand when people are suicidal and things they can do."

The video, which is titled "Out of the Darkness," has been shown by the initiative to high school students and to the public through meetings held by the group since 1999.

The video also airs on the local access television channel.

Gangel credits the videotape for raising awareness within the county.

"There was one man who was thinking about suicide and saw the video on television," he said. "He then called us. The video has been powerful."

Mitchum said, "It's about the sadness it caused his family and friends. Some of his friends tell how they could have helped if they would have been aware of how depressed he was."

Depression and alcohol and substance abuse play a major role in the suicides that occur in the United States and in Routt County every year.

Routt County Coroner Doug Allen has compiled statistics where depression and alcohol were factors in suicides locally.

In the suicides that have occurred, 75 percent involved alcohol or drugs. About 70 percent of the cases showed a history of depression.

"We definitely have a problem in Routt County," Allen said. "Depression is a key to the whole thing. People get depressed and tend to turn to alcohol and drugs."

Although officials can point to depression and alcohol and drugs as factors for suicides, they have been unable to pinpoint why so many people have taken their lives here.

"Mountain towns have a higher suicide rate, but we don't have any answers for it," Gangel said. "We have not been able to find a trend here. The ages are all over the place and residency is not a factor. Some have lived here a long time and others haven't. We are all over the place."

With no real answers for the suicide rate here, the initiative has focused on educating the public that it is OK to talk about suicide and it stresses depression and suicide can be treated.

"Depression strikes one in every five people," Gangel said. "It's a lot more prevalent than people think and is treatable.

"Our hope is that we can slow the incidents down. If a person is depressed or suicidal, there are services available here."

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