Mark Wick said members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 were recently caught unprepared.
“We had a kid that came back from overseas that was just in desperate need of help,” the post commander said.
The young veteran had expressed suicidal thoughts, and Wick and other members of the VFW weren’t sure how to respond.
“That’s what sparked my interested in this program,” Wick said.
The program he referred to was suicide prevention training.
The Craig Veterans Telehealth Clinic and the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center are providing upcoming training sessions.
Sheila Linwood, a mental health associate from the VA in Grand Junction, will be in Craig to provide two separate seminars early next week.
The VFW will host the first seminar at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the post headquarters, 419 E. Victory Way. Colorado Northwestern Community College will host a second session at noon Tuesday at the Bell Tower Building, room 201, 50 College Dr.
Both events are free and open to the public.
Linwood said suicide is a major problem in Colorado.
“I believe we lost 942 people last year to suicide,” she said.
The suicide rate in Colorado is nearly twice the national average, she said. In 2010, the suicide rate in Colorado was 18.4 per 100,000 people, while the national rate was 10.7 per 100,000.
The statistics get worse closer to home, she said.
“Most of our counties on the Western Slope are more than double the national rate,” Linwood said.
Part of the reason could be elevation.
Linwood cited a recent report in the medical journal High-Altitude Medicine and Biology.
The article found a significant correlation between communities above 4,200 feet in elevation and the rate of suicide.
“What they cite is hypoxia, which is oxygen deprivation,” she said of the report.
Craig’s elevation is above 6,000 feet.
The risk of suicide is also increased for veterans.
“We know statistically that our veterans are twice as likely to (commit) suicide,” Linwood said.
The length and number of deployments play a role in the risk. Conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder increase the risk even further, she said.
The VA’s suicide prevention training revolves around the acronym SAVE.
Linwood said each letter of the acronym represents a step in suicide intervention — Signs, Ask, Validate and Expedite.
Concerned friends, families and community members need to be aware of the signs of suicidal thinking, Linwood said.
Once warning signs are identified, she said people need to summon the courage to ask if their friend is having suicidal thoughts.
“We have to be direct in our questions,” she said. “We can’t beat around the bush.”
Sentences such as, “Are you think of harming yourself?” or “Are you thinking of doing something crazy?” aren’t effective.
“You have to use very direct verbiage,” she said. “‘Are you thinking about suicide? Do you have a plan? Do you have the means?’”
Next, a listener should validate a suicidal person’s feelings. Make them understand that you have listened and they’re not alone.
“No judgment,” she said.
Finally, a listener should encourage a suicidal person to seek professional help, or expedite a referral.
The last step can be difficult because of a persistent stigma surrounding mental health issues. It wasn’t long ago when people in crisis could be “locked up,” she said.
“But, that doesn’t happen any more,” Linwood said.
Less than one percent of people who seek counseling for suicide are hospitalized.
Linwood said her training sessions are informal and open to anyone.
“Usually, I try to let the trainings take on a life of their own, depending on who is in the room,” she said. “A lot of times we can have clinicians and family members in the same place, so there can be some diverse questions, which is good.”
Wick said he’ll attend Tuesday’s training.
The incident that sparked his interest had a good outcome — the young veteran sought help with family — but Wick wants to be better prepared in the future.
“It seems like an awful lot of people have committed suicide in this community in the last couple of years,” he said. “Hopefully, there are some words of wisdom that can be passed along.
“And, if we can save one person, it’s well worth it.”
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