Regional suicide prevention officials ready to help |

Regional suicide prevention officials ready to help

Collin Smith

Ronna Autrey's son committed suicide eight years ago, at the age of 31, leaving behind a grieving mother and father in Steamboat Springs and a wife and two children in Maryland, where he lived.

Autrey came home to Steam­boat after the funeral and started to look for someone to talk to, a counselor or psychiatrist who might help her cope with the uncertainty that enveloped her life.

"If there was (a note), we don't know about it, and that's the hard part about suicide," Autrey said. "I don't care if they do have a note, you never know why."

She left a lot of messages around Steamboat, crying into the answering machines at various doctors' offices, but she did not hear back from anyone. Autrey was alone, and in her loneliness, confusion and anger she found a new purpose.

"That was very disturbing," she said. "Here's a mom who was crying and sobbing on the phone and saying, 'My son killed himself,' and nobody was calling me back. I desperately needed help, and no one was calling me back, and that was horrendous."

Autrey said her heartbreak and loneliness were big reasons why she joined Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide when it formed six years ago.

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Now 59 and the group's suicide prevention coordinator, Autrey hopes to rebuild REPS in Craig and Moffat County — which she said doesn't seem to have the community support it enjoyed a few years ago — so no one goes through what she did.

According to Mental Health America of Colorado, the Western Slope has a higher suicide rate per 100,000 residents than any other part of the state, and Moffat County has one of the highest suicide rates on the Western Slope.

"It is very safe to say that Moffat County is one of the highest," said Jacy Conradt, community relations manager for Mental Health America of Colorado.

Beka Warren, Moffat County deputy coroner, said the county's number of suicides increased from six to eight from 2005 to 2006, but fell to one in 2007, when REPS and other suicide prevention campaigns got under way.

The total rose to three in 2008, and although Warren said she did not have statistics for 2009, she knew of two suicides that have happened since Jan. 1.

She said that if she could tell the community one thing about suicide and depression, it would be that it affects everyone of all backgrounds and ages.

Depression and thoughts of death are not symptoms of weakness, Warren said, and people always should be willing to help those they know or love.

Carroll Moore, Moffat County High School counselor, said about 10 students attended a special suicide prevention training in December 2009 to learn the best way to identify warning signs and encourage a person to seek help.

The class — known as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training — is a two-day course taught several times each year by mental health professionals.

Moore said depression and suicide are not common among students, but the issues are not new, either.

"I think there are a lot more depressed kids and a lot more that contemplate suicide than people realize," she said.

Moore recalled a story told to her about a group of friends who stayed up all night to keep someone awake after they drank an excessive amount of alcohol and took pills.

Many stories like that stay buried below the surface, she said.

"We don't know about all the attempts," Moore said. "We just know the ones that get reported."

Autrey, Warren and Moore agreed that one of the reasons they think suicide rates are higher in Moffat County is because of the area's vast remoteness coupled with a prevailing belief that any request for help signals a frailty of character.

"This is a ranching community, and some people are pretty isolated," Autrey said. "There also is a feeling that you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you don't seek therapy or find a mental health provider."

Moore said one of the main causes of depression and suicidal tendencies are chemical imbalances, purely medical issues that are not related to someone's surroundings or things happening in their life.

She added, however, that bullying and loneliness do affect people. Homophobia and picking on students who are different are issues that affect students in their daily lives, she said.

Although REPS doesn't have the same organization behind it now that it once did, Autrey said, she hopes it won't be difficult to reignite awareness in the community.

"I feel as if, after six years of hard work, people know who we are, they know we're out there and we have services to provide," she said. "I look at that as we're finally on the road to being successful."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or

Where to find help

The following services are available to anyone at anytime. Those who are suffering from depression or want more information about available services or warning signs to look for are encouraged to speak with someone listed below.

Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide

A Yampa Valley-based community organization that offers counseling and peer-led group support, including:

• Depression/bipolar support group, hosted twice a month in Steamboat Springs

• Heartbeat, a support group for suicide survivors, hosted twice a month in Steamboat Springs

• Monthly speaker series in Steamboat Springs

• Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training classes hosted throughout the year

For more information on REPS and its services, or to speak with someone, call Ronna Autrey at 846-8182 during the day and 871-0682 at night.

Pueblo Suicide Prevention Center

A member of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado with several ways to help those looking for support.

Use any of the following phone numbers:

• Help line: 719-544-1133

• Teen line: 719-564-5566

• 24-hour crisis line: 1-800-SUICIDE

• General office line: 719-564-6642


A national suicide hot line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is recommended by Mental Health America of Colorado.

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