REPS session aims to educate about suicide

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The two women sit face-to-face. Each has a different purpose.

The woman on the left, Robin Willis, fidgets in her chair while explaining why life has become unbearable. She explains why her sorrows outweigh her joys.

Her story is heartbreaking. She says her first husband beat her. She says she caught her latest beau molesting her daughter.

She blames herself for it. Then says she has a plan to make the pain go away.

"Maybe someplace where it's easy to clean," she says about the location where she's planned to take her own life.

The woman across from her, Tracy Sheldon, listens calmly. If she's shocked by this woman's plan, her expression doesn't show it. She leans forward and speaks in a soft voice that are meant to bring Willis back from the edge.

"I can see this is something that's really bothering you, something making you really sad," she said. "All of us have things that happen in our lives that we wish we would have known ahead of time."

Willis' and Sheldon's ex----change wasn't real. It was an exercise in role playing at Friday's second training day for prospective suicide advocates. The women, who are Craig residents, joined 10 other people in participating in the two-day training session.

Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (REPS) is a Yampa Valley coalition focused on helping to reduce or eliminate an area-wide suicide rate of one per month. The training sessions, dubbed Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) took place Thursday and Friday at Craig City Hall.

Sandy Beran, bereavement and spiritual care coordinator for the Hospice program at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Craig, served as a trainer at the sessions. She said the sessions are designed to help people help those who are in the midst of challenging periods in their life.

"It's to learn how to really connect with someone who's feeling like suicide is the answer ... and how to assist them with how to get help," Beran said.

She called the training session "suicide CPR."

Beran has firsthand experience in counseling someone contemplating suicide. Last year, a family friend in Grand Junction was considering suicide as an option for dealing with life's difficulties.

Beran's training was crucial in helping the young woman.

"You have to focus on what's important to them, a reason for living, and not be afraid to listen," she said. "You have to help move them through that (difficult time) to find more possibilities in life. We were able to come up with some different ideas. She's in two support groups now."

Beran said students at the training session adapted well to learning the counseling skills.

"People have been very receptive," she said. "I believe they have developed how not to be afraid and how to help (the person considering suicide) to look at other options."

The character Willis developed for her exercise with Sheldon on Friday provided insight into the despair depression can inflict. Her character said she couldn't forgive herself for bringing a man into her home that hurt her daughter.

"I should have seen. I should have known," Willis said. "She'll probably never be able to look at me because I brought him in."

In the same calm, voice, Sheldon countered Willis' claim by saying that her daughter would now need her more than ever. She said committing suicide would compound the problem the family faces.

Then, when the moment was right, she delicately broached the idea of seeking treatment.

"There is always another choice, always something instead of suicide," Sheldon said.

REPS is planning to host another suicide prevention training session in Steamboat Springs in September. Beran also said the organization would like to host another session in Craig before year's end.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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