Tom Gangel, executive director of Steamboat Mental Health, leads a discussion during an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course at the Concordia Lutheran Church.

Photo by John F. Russell

Tom Gangel, executive director of Steamboat Mental Health, leads a discussion during an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course at the Concordia Lutheran Church.

ASIST gives depression, suicide prevention training



Alison Hobson, front, and Megan Rea listen to speaker Tom Gangel during an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course at the Concordia Lutheran Church.

Suicide hotlines

To find help for depression, call the Steamboat Mental Health crisis line at 879-1090, or hotlines at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE.

— Tom Gangel is teaching students in his suicide prevention course how to deal with a man on the edge. To demonstrate such a situation last week, Gangel became just that.

In the demonstration, Gangel, the executive director of Steamboat Mental Health, simply stood on the edge of his chair. But students in the course may one day be presented with someone truly on the edge of life and contemplating suicide. So students in the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training program talked to Gangel to complete a role-playing exercise using the ASIST method and steer Gangel away from the edge of his treacherous chair.

Buck Chavarria, director of Christ for Life Sk8 Church, took a turn talking to Gangel in the basement of the Concordia Lutheran Church on Tuesday morning. He asked Gangel about his family and friends, and he encouraged him to call some of them before he takes his life.

"Well, that's a good idea. That's a very good idea. But I'm not going to do it," Gangel said, putting on a difficult attitude to thwart his students.

The nine participants, including several school-based mentors from Partners in Routt County, said they hope they never have to use the skills presented by Gangel and Sandy Beran, of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. But unfortunately, the time likely will come when they need to talk to a suicidal person.

Survey results of the nationwide ASIST program show that six months later, 64 percent of participants used the training in their lives.

Chavarria works with at-risk youth and said he attended the training so he would know how to handle suicidal situations.

"Steamboat has such a high suicide rate : and I want to have all the tools I can," he said.

Gangel said the suicide rate in Routt County is high for Colorado, and the rate in Colorado is high for the United States. In 2008, there were nine successful suicides in the county. The average in the past nine years has been five suicides per year. In 2007, there were two.

"In 2008, we had a horrible year," Gangel said. "Who knows why. Maybe economic things."

Reaching out in schools

Soroco High School and Colorado Mountain College student Kaydee Peckham, who Gangel said probably was the first high school student to attend the training in Routt County, said she would like to establish a support network at her high school with the training she receives from the program.

Peckham said the background training is invaluable.

"It's nice to practice in an environment that's not real," she said.

Gangel said the first important lesson in "suicide CPR" is that "whatever they bring to the table is enough."

There are several difficult steps along the way, he said, including broaching the topic of suicide with a depressed person and getting past the question, "Are you thinking of committing suicide?"

After that question is asked, Beran said, the helpers must also "spend time listening to things that are so negative," often a difficult task.

The group, on the second day of the two-day training, broke up into pairs and talked through the steps of helping a suicidal person.

Caroline Beard and Megan Rea, school-based mentors with Partners, sat across from each other. Beard played a single mother with three children. Her eldest son had been in a car accident and was in a coma. The bills are piling up. On a break from her fictional job as a waitress, she told Rea she was contemplating suicide.

Rea gently questioned Beard about whom she could talk to and how she was coping. She established a rapport with Beard and gradually talked her away from her depression.

Derek Kratzer, another Partners mentor, said finding the patience to complete the process can be difficult, especially in stressful situations.

"I'd say (the hardest part) is me not trying to move too quickly through the conversation with them but taking the time to have them tell their story, for them to explain their depression and reasons they do have to live," he said.

The free two-day ASIST training is offered twice a year to the public in Routt County.

Gangel and Beran also give shorter presentations to groups including law enforcement, health care providers and businesses, upon request.

More than 100 people have received the training in Routt and Moffat counties.


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