Community meets to discuss suicide prevention

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— When Ronna Autrey lost her son to suicide four years ago, it took months before she could get out of bed and a year and a half before she could speak about it in public.

Today, Autrey is a volunteer with Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, a group that works to educate Yampa Valley residents about suicide in hopes of preventing more deaths.

Autrey, along with several other representatives from local and state suicide prevention organizations, met Wednesday at Centennial Hall to facilitate a discussion with community members about what is being done to prevent suicide and what needs to be done.

Several suicides occurred in Routt County this summer, spurring the town hall meeting.

According to Colorado Dep--artment of Public Health and Environment statistics, eight people committed suicide in the Yampa Valley this year. Ten suicides were reported in 2004. Men committed 80 percent of the suicides. Firearms were used in 70 percent of the deaths.

About three dozen community members attended the meeting, including teachers, doctors, counselors, parents and people who knew someone who committed suicide.

"My plea as a mother who lost a son is that we get rid of this," Autrey said. "This can happen to anyone. The cause of this is depression."

Autrey and others focused on depression being a leading factor in most suicides and said treating depression and recognizing its symptoms are the first steps in helping people with suicidal thoughts.

Steamboat Mental Health dir--ector Tom Gangel urged people to simply ask those who appear depressed or upset about how they are doing. A simple question could mean a world of difference to those contemplating suicide.

"All it takes is one person to ask, 'How are you today?'" he said. "Most people would rather be dead than burden their best friends with their problems."

Gangel also stressed the imp--ortance of talking about suicide in schools and at home.

Talking about suicide continues to have a stigma attached to it, Autrey said, even though communication is crucial for depressed people.

Craig resident and Moffat County REPS member Barbara Seed also spoke about the value of open dialogue between parents, educators and physicians to help facilitate a healing process for those who are depressed or suicidal.

"It's so important to get together and talk about your story. It's so important to help you heal," Seed said.

After the formal presentation ended, Gangel asked the audience to brainstorm ideas about what can be done at the state and local levels to aid suicide prevention.

Of the many ideas expressed, attendees agreed that, on a local level, more funding is needed for suicide-prevention programs. They also agreed that mental health professionals need to be more accessible to low-income families; primary care physicians and other medical professionals need to treat depressed people or refer them to those who can; and educational presentations for teachers, counselors and school-age children informing them about the symptoms and solutions to depression need to be developed.

On the state level, the audience agreed that mental health organizations should be more uniform to aid people who move around but still need mental health services, as well as changing the youth culture to treat suicide like any other problem so youths are more comfortable seeking help.

"We hope that, eventually, all Coloradans believe suicide is preventable," Denver Lost and Found outpatient program manger Katie Ford said. "We're here to reach out to everyone in the state and connect."

REPS suicide prevention coordinator Sara Ross hopes to use ideas generated at the meeting to develop more suicide awareness campaigns.

"Obviously we didn't get an all-inclusive list. We really do need to get the entire community involved in this process," she said.

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