Routt County suicide rate hits 10-year high
January 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — 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.
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"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.
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.