Area suicides spur town meeting

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If you go What: Town hall meeting to address suicide prevention Where: Centennial Hall, 137 10th St. When: 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday Cost: Free Call: 879-2141

— In the past four months, five people have committed suicide in Routt County. As the number of suicides continues to add up, area mental health workers feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to help those who are suicidal.

On Wednesday, they are asking community members to join in a dialogue about the rising local suicide rate and how to combat it.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Colorado residents. Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause.

"Both are preventable," suicide prevention coordinator Sara Ross said. Most often, suicide is caused by untreated depression, particularly in men.

"There is such a stigma about getting treated for depression," said Tom Gangel, director of Steamboat Mental Health.

When untreated, depression can overtake a person's life, Gangel said.

"Everyone should experience sadness, but it usually passes. Depression is a different thing. You can't enjoy the things you used to enjoy. You stop eating the way you used to eat. People stop going to work. They start using substances."

Although Gangel and Ross can describe the symptoms that lead to suicide, Gangel admits that he is at his wits' end trying to find ways to stop it.

The town hall meeting, from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday in Centennial Hall, allows community members to share their ideas about suicide issues and prevention and a chance for state and local suicide prevention organizations to raise awareness about their efforts.

"No matter what we do, it continues to happen in Routt and Moffat counties," Gangel said. "This is a chance for us to generate some new ideas."

In the past six years, Routt County has averaged five suicides a year. Compared to the national average, that number is "astronomical," Gangel said. Colorado is ranked seventh in the nation for the number of suicides committed annually, and Northwest Colorado ranks high in the state for its suicide rate.

"Suicide rates are higher in rural areas," Ross said. "Part of it is not having the same access to mental health care, but it's also because of the isolation.

"We are so spread out here, and I know it isn't politically correct, but we also have access to guns."

Men in the area tend to commit suicide more often than women, partly because they choose more violent methods when attempting suicide and because they often are more successful than women at committing suicide, Gangel said. "But women are catching up. They are becoming more violent and self-destructive."

The Office of Suicide Prev--ention, a statewide agency, will host Wednesday's town hall meeting. The Suicide Prevention Coalition will present ideas and statistics from other areas. A local group, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, will present local suicide prevention programs. After the presentations, there will be time for discussion.

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