Steamboat Springs It’s not sexy to talk about suicide, but that’s what Jarrod Hindman, director of the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, did Saturday afternoon at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.
To an audience of 155 people at the first Yampa Valley Mental Health Conference: Building a Caring Community, the lunchtime keynote speaker addressed the elephant in the room of the suicide realm: men and depression.
“There’s a cultural stigma against seeking help,” Hindman said. “Especially in the West, the notion is, ‘Suck it up, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and take care of it on your own.’”
He admitted that for working-age men, seeking help for mental issues is a lot like asking for directions: In many cases, it challenges social constructs of machismo and self-sufficiency.
But that demographic — men ages 25 to 55 — accounts for a disproportionate number of suicides in Colorado.
And it’s no different in Routt County, which has seen six suicides this year.
Ronna Autrey, executive director of local nonprofit Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and one of the organizers of Saturday’s daylong conference, said many local residents lost to suicide in past years have been men ages 25 to 54.
“I really wanted to get the word out about it,” Autrey said about bringing Hindman to speak about the difficulties of reaching the male demographic.
Autrey said the conference exceeded the organizers’ expectations for the first year of the event.
The conference began with a keynote speaker followed by several breakout sessions and a complimentary lunch.
One of the breakout sessions featured an hourlong course in QPR training, which stands for “question, persuade, refer.”
It’s a way for any member of the community to help recognize and react to signs of depression in friends and neighbors, Autrey said.
“I hope that more people want to be a gatekeeper, to learn these skills,” she said. “I just want us to look out for each other.”
Despite the somber subject matter — which went well beyond suicide and into areas like bullying, art therapy, substance abuse and veteran health — the mood in the room was mostly hopeful.
Krista Andress, who works at the Doak Walker Care Center, said she attended the conference to help spread awareness of mental health and suicide issues.
“There’s lots of suicide in our county and in the health care profession, and I think we need to raise awareness,” Andress said. “We need to learn to say the word suicide and learn to prevent it.”
In all demographics, suicide claimed almost twice as many people as motor vehicle deaths in 2010 in Colorado, according to Hindman’s presentation.
Routt County resident Holly Fielding said she has been touched by suicide in her family.
“My family member suffered some of the damage in his childhood that caused him to commit suicide in his adulthood,” Fielding said about why she attended the conference. “I’m really concerned about mental health in youths.”
Fielding said the morning’s keynote speaker, Tina Meier, addressed her concerns during a talk about cyberbullying. Meier, who also gave presentations at Northwest Colorado schools this week, told the story about her daughter, Megan, who committed suicide at age 13 after a cyberbullying attack.
“It’s scary because I’m homeschooling my kids, and they’re on the computer a lot,” Fielding said. “But also it’s empowering to get this stuff talked about. It’s not talked about enough.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com