High suicide numbers for Northwest Colorado raise questions | CraigDailyPress.com

High suicide numbers for Northwest Colorado raise questions

— Northwest Colorado recently lost another of its residents to suicide, and mental health providers and community leaders are asking why and what can be done.

The subject strikes close to home for Meghan Francone, the executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, who lost her own brother-in-law to suicide when he was only 15 years old.

"Having been a family member who's lost somebody, it's a hard topic, but it's something that our counties and our communities really need to look at," Francone said. "We need to be our brother's keepers."

Last year, Moffat County had three suicides. Six deaths were ruled as suicides in Routt County in 2014, and two more have already taken place in 2015, although one is awaiting a final ruling by the coroner.

"Northwest Colorado is hit very hard by suicide," Francone said.

Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reveals that Colorado's Health Statistics Region 11, which encompasses Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties, had the third highest age-adjusted rate for suicide throughout the state when averaged over a three-year period from 2010 to 2012.

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"I wish we could figure out why we're higher," said Gina Toothaker, program director for Mind Springs Health in Steamboat Springs, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to communities on Colorado's Western Slope. "There is no one thing that seems to connect them all. We have a big substance abuse problem in this community, and that can contribute."

Colorado had the seventh highest suicide rate in the country in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is hard to say exactly why.

"Death by suicide … is always in the top 10 of causes of death in Colorado, but we're in the bottom quarter for funding," Francone said.

In fact, suicide caused more deaths for Coloradans in 2013, than car accidents, diabetes, breast cancer or homicide, according to the Office of Suicide Prevention 2013-2014 Annual Report.

Francone said research continues to be done to study the relationship between elevation and depression. Harsh winters and rural communities with less mental health resources also could contribute to the suicide rate.

The good news is that more people seem to be seeking out help in Routt County.

"We're seeing more and more people coming in and asking for help," Toothaker said.

Moffat County poses a tougher challenge, however, to those on the front lines of the suicide fight.

"The stigma here of mental health is huge… We are the wild, wild West. If we have a rough day here, we don't feel like it is acceptable to talk to someone about that, to reach out to someone, to seek resources," Francone said. "I wish I could just say no more stigma, knock it off, get help."

Francone is passionate about preventing suicide and is working to raise awareness about the signs of risk through suicide prevention trainings and to meet the needs of those in crisis through support services.

"It's those people that we're rubbing shoulders with in the grocery store," Francone said. "It's our family. It's our kids."

Help for those considering suicide is just a phone call away, or people can go to an emergency room. Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is encouraged to reach out to a professional immediately.

The Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide hotline is 970-846-8182, and the national hotline is 800-273-TALK.

Francone and Toothaker said people should not be ashamed to ask for help.

"It seems like people are getting over the stigma and getting help," Toothaker said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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