The McNamara family, from left, Bridget, Meghan, Katie and Kevin, is one of the numerous Routt County families affected by suicide in 2010. Bridget and Kevin lost their son, Darby, to suicide on July 4, 2010.

Photo by Matt Stensland

The McNamara family, from left, Bridget, Meghan, Katie and Kevin, is one of the numerous Routt County families affected by suicide in 2010. Bridget and Kevin lost their son, Darby, to suicide on July 4, 2010.

Routt County suicide rate hits 10-year high

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The McNamara family has set up a memorial for Darby in their home. Darby’s organ’s were donated and benefited more than a dozen people.

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Johnna Clavadetscher, right, and Lucianne Myhre, a Steamboat Springs High School teacher, participate in a role playing exercise during Applied Intervention Skills Training put on by the Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide group in November 2010 at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

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To learn more about Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and its programs, visit www.justasknow.org/reps.html or call 970-879-2141.

— When Darby McNamara talked to his parents for the last time, he told them California was not working out and he wanted to come home.

It was July 4, 2010, and the McNamara family was celebrating the holiday 1,000 miles apart for the first time since Darby had made his exit from Steamboat Springs a year ago.

Darby, a 21-year-old Steamboat Springs High School graduate and aspiring chef, planned to spend the holiday poolside with friends at his apartment complex in Huntington Beach.

“He told me he was going to have an absolute ball that evening,” said Bridget McNamara, Darby’s mom.

Bridget and her husband, Kevin, would figure out a plan the next day for getting Darby back to Steamboat. The conversation with their son had ended when his cell phone died.

“We left the conversation off with, ‘Don’t worry, son, we’ll figure out how to get you home,’” Kevin said. “We left on a fairly upbeat note.”

That night, Bridget checked her cell phone.

“I don’t know what told me to check, but there was a hysterical message from Darby’s girlfriend,” Bridget said. “It was a … message that Darby had hung himself.”

The former high school athlete, whom his sister Katie described as a “crazy kid that put a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” was gone.

In the following weeks, the Mc­­Namara family was in shock. Bridget and Kevin spent three hours at a lumberyard picking out the boards that Kevin would craft into a box to hold their son’s ashes.

“You can’t function,” Bridget said. “You can’t make up your mind.”

Few warning signs

Suicide changed the lives of the McNamaras and countless others in Routt County in 2010.

“It’s not just the immediate family,” said Ronna Autrey, director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide. “It’s everyone who knew them.”

The number of suicides in Routt County reached a 10-year high in 2010 with 11 deaths and 95 documented attempts. There were 940 suicides in Colorado in 2009, the highest number since 1988, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The numbers are daunting to people like Autrey, who have made suicide prevention their passion and who work tirelessly to educate themselves and others. It’s been that way since her 31-year-old son, Shaun, who had a wife and two kids, committed suicide in 2001.

“If it was to happen today, I would have done things totally differently,” Autrey said. “I respect the severity of depression. I would not have said, ‘It’s not the end of the world,’ because in his mind, it was the end of the world.”

The economy has played a major role in the spike of suicides, Autrey said.

“It’s economics, relationships and substance abuse,” she said. “They’re not seeking help. Something is wrong in their life, and we know depression is treatable.”

Warnings signs often can be subtle, and the reasons for suicide often are unknown.

“Even if they leave a note, we’re not always sure,” Autrey said. “There are always pieces of the puzzle missing.”

Darby McNamara’s suicide was no different.

“No one saw it coming,” Bridget McNamara said. “He just got up and walked away from the pool area, and at that point, they said, he hadn’t consumed that much alcohol.”

Money might have played a role. Darby had been laid off, and his lease was about to end. He owed the parents of one of his roommates a month’s rent, and the parents had threatened to sue Darby, Bridget said.

“We really had to talk Darby down from that,” Kevin McNamara said. “It could have been the thing that put him over the edge. Who knows.”

“We have to accept the decision Darby made, but we don’t have to like it or understand it,” Bridget McNamara said.

Resources available

Bridget said she thinks Darby’s outcome would have been different had he had access to and known about the services offered in Routt County.

REPS, which is funded by grants and donations, helped at least 30 people last year who contacted the organization directly seeking help, Autrey said. REPS pays for an on-call clinician to respond to suicide-related mental health calls. That person can be reached at 970-879-1090.

Free training also is offered.

In 2010, 62 Routt and Moffat county residents attended intense two-day suicide education programs called Applied Intervention Skills Training. Participants included eight Moffat County High School students and several Steamboat middle and high school teachers.

“We hope to take that even further,” Autrey said.

Other services offered by the organization include support groups for those who have been affected by suicide and people suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.

The REPS Loss Assistance Team responds to suicides to provide support and resources for survivors.

The organization has 40 volunteers, including Darby’s younger sister Katie, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School.

“I just want to help other people so other people don’t have to go through what we did,” she said.

Comments

Don Little 3 years, 3 months ago

I really admire the people who are working so hard on this problem, particularly Rona Autrey who is awesome. I wonder though if front-page headlines about SUICIDE!! are helpful. I wonder if this actually publicizes suicide as an possible alternative solution that is chosen by so many. I have read that one suicide inspires another, and that suicides tend to occur in clusters. If suicide prevention was instead called something like "Depression Awareness, Recognition and Treatment" would suicide deaths and attempts keep going up? I guess they probably would, but I wonder.

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SPARKYINSTMBT 3 years, 3 months ago

Thank you to the McNamaras for their honesty and willingness to help educate our community. This horrible tragedy has affected so many families in Routt County this year. Depression Awareness, Recognition and Treatment is what needs to happen to help fight Suicide. Ronna and the team of REPS volunteers have been actively trying to reach all areas of our community. I don't believe that any of us that wake up every morning with sunshine in our lives ,will ever understand the depth of darkness that individuals suffering from depression feel. What causes an individual to actually commit suicide we will never know. Is it a Bleep in their mind, has it been brewing for awhile, do they actually realize it is a final decision. Who knows. Educating our public on this topic and putting the word Suicide out in the open, might be the start to treatment for individuals who are considering this option. I am in favor of putting it on the front page and getting out there to our community. It is time for it to come out of the closet. Thanks to Ronna, Bridget, Kevin, Meghan, and Katie for stepping up to help others understand.

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callguinness 3 years, 3 months ago

SUICIDE!! Saying the word or typing it or reading it will not put the idea in someones head. All the data and research says it is actually healthy to talk about. People who are thinking about suicide don't get the idea from something we say, the idea comes from their own mind. People who are not thinking about suicide aren't going to start just because the word is mentioned. This needs to be a topic we as a community feel we can talk about if we ever want to actually address the problem. People need to know that resources exist to help them if they are feeling depressed, or espicially suicidal. This was a great article written very tastefully. Thank you to the family, thank you to Rona Autrey and her great team, and thank you to the Pilot for stepping up and addressing this on the front page.

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babette dickson 3 years, 3 months ago

Chicks... I think it's healthier to be straight and honest. Mental illness is a major problem and suicide is definitively an option some folks chose to end their pain. Let's name it exactly instead of trying to concile the stigma. REPS is an amazing organization fighting the stigma and the shame families endure. Chickdigsdcars: you should enroll in Ronna's next training and I am fairly convince you'll see why "suicide" is the right word to use. Thanks Mrs Autrey for all your work in our community and I feel relieved that more of my peers-educators are signing up for the training. We, teachers, are on the front line of the problem, and we must get the knowledge. Peace.

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Sbsskigirl 3 years, 3 months ago

It's about time the Pilot wrote an article about suicides in Steamboat, but why is there no mention of how we compare to other places? NIMH data lists the national suicide rate as 11.3 per 100,000 people, which puts Routt County at something like 4-5 times the national average. We should be talking about that.

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1999 3 years, 3 months ago

SUICIDE!!! Lets talk about it. lets shout it from the rooftops.

hiding from it is part of the stigma.

get help. talk . talk to your friends. your parents.

tell them you have thoughts of SUICIDE!!!!

talk prevents not causes suicides.

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rhys jones 3 years, 3 months ago

Of course I chose this, Winter of all Winters, to take off for an Arizona sojourn. I'm not enjoying the pow-pow, but I am still riding my Trek in shorts.

The previous post is astute; we SHOULD consider why the suicide rate is so much higher in Routt County. I had a plan, when there, involving piano wire and the 13th St bridge, where I hoped they'd find my head by Milner. I can relate.

One difference I've noticed is, when in the 'Boat, it's easy to notice all I DON'T have. The cars, houses, land, clothes, money... my own endeavor has yet to succeed in any self-supporting way, and I have been forced to perform menial labor and rent bedrooms in the interim. My budget is tight, and it's easy to feel like I'm on the outside looking in. A Plain-bellied Sneetch, as it were. A Have-Not.

When in Arizona, especially the Phoenix metro area, you don't have to look far to realize just how lucky you are. There's a lot of people with more challenges than I have, and my blessings are many indeed.

I've got The Curse, and I'll be back. But not until I don't have to feel like a second-class citizen there. It may be a self-imposed condition, but there it is.

So why IS despair and helplessness easier to come by in Routt County??

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Tricia Nickerson 3 years, 3 months ago

Yes we can talk about this. It is hard to know what the person was thinking after the act. I think people that do it if they could do it over they wouldn't do it. It does affect everyone that knows them.

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