“You’re in a room with peers who understand and relate to you. Once you start experiencing that level of support it’s not as scary anymore to share your story.”
— Craig Mental Health program coordinator Gina Toothaker about suicide support groups.
Moffat County is known for its stalwart farmers and ranchers as well as those who work long hours in the mine. It’s a community that works hard for what they have, enduring cold, long winters and a sense of isolation at times.
With liquor stores and churches on nearly every corner in the Craig community, a person can find salvation or a bottle of liquor to soothe troubles and sorrows associated with the rural lifestyle. But there are times when neither seems to do the trick, and extreme and irrevocable measures could be taken.
Whether contemplating or attempting suicide, it’s a tough subject to seek help for, and one the Craig community seems reluctant to discuss.
Ronna Autrey, founder of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide in Steamboat, or REPS, said her organization has had a difficult time keeping a suicide support group together in Craig.
“I just feel like it's no man’s land,” Autrey said. “It just makes me sick, because we need one over there.”
With a thriving group in Steamboat, Autrey said she can’t understand why support groups don’t seem to make it in Craig. Sometimes starting with enough members, by the second meeting, Autrey said attendance has dwindled to one or two people.
“You can’t get anything accomplished like that,” Autrey said.
Even looking in the archives of the Craig Daily Press, stories abound about new suicide support groups and training courses offered throughout the years in the community. None seem to continue today.
“I honestly don’t know why they don’t work,” Craig Mental Health Program Director Gina Toothaker said. “It’s tough to get going in Craig.”
Toothaker said in the 18 years she has worked at the Craig office, either her group or others tried to start up support groups with no success.
“People would request them, we’d make one and one person would show up,” Toothaker said.
With a certain stigma attached to mental health, Toothaker said many people don’t want others to know they’re struggling with a mental health issue and especially not in a small group setting.
REPS, Craig Mental Health and the Visiting Nurses Association have attempted to create small groups, Toothaker said, or to create a place community members might feel safe going.
Moffat County High School counselor Paula Duzik was reluctant to discuss it. Duzik declined to comment on the subject, saying she felt uncomfortable discussing the topic of suicide.
The importance of open discussion without fear of judgment seems to be critical in the prevention of suicide.
Toothaker said research has shown group therapy to be more effective than individual therapy.
“At the beginning, you’re in a room with strangers,” Toothaker said. “You’re afraid your stuff’s going to get all over town.”
Getting to that point may not be easily done, but Toothaker said it gets better throughout time.
“You’re in a room with peers who understand and relate to you. Once you start experiencing that level of support it’s not as scary anymore to share your story,” Toothaker said.
Darian Warden can be reached at 970-875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org