Suicide prevention training provided in Craig |

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Suicide prevention training provided in Craig

Sheila Linwood, a mental health associate from the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, presents a training session on suicide prevention Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 in Craig. Being observant and asking direct questions are the keys to saving lives, Linwood said.

Need to talk?

Call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK for 24/7 help.

Warning signs

Changes in activity or energy level such as:

• Decreased energy

• Fatigue

• Lethargy

• Diminished activity

• Insomnia or hypersomnia

• Loss of interest in pleasurable


• Social withdrawal

Physical changes:

• Unexpected aches and pains

• Weight loss or gain

• Decreased or increased appetite

• Psychomotor agitation or


Emotional pain:

• Prolonged sadness

• Unexplained, uncontrollable crying

• Feelings of guilt

• Feelings of worthlessness

• Loss of self-esteem

• Despair

• Hopelessness/helplessness

Difficult moods:

• Irritability

• Anger

• Worry/anxiety

• Pessimism

• Indifference

• Self-critical

Changes in thought patterns:

• Inability to concentrate

• Indecision

• Problems with memory

• Disorganized

Preoccupation with death:

• Thoughts of death

• Suicidal ideation

• Feeling dead or detached

Source: Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide

Sheila Linwood, a mental health associate from the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said Colorado suicide statistics are surprising for two reasons.

First is the raw data.

The national average for suicide is 10.7 out of 100,000 people. In Moffat County, the rate is more than double — 25 out of 100,000.

The second surprise, Linwood said, is the lack of response to the issue.

"We have — right here on the Western Slope of Colorado — some of the highest (rates) in the nation," she said. "Why aren't people flocking to our doors saying, 'What are we going to do about this?'

"I don't know."

Linwood was in Craig on Tuesday to provide suicide prevention training at two seminars. The first seminar took place at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265. The second was hosted at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

At the VFW, Linwood provided her trainees statistics on suicide, and discussed the warning signs for suicidal behavior and intervention techniques.

The statistics in Colorado are steep, she said.

"We have some of the highest rates in the country," she said. "Colorado is always in the top 10."

Statewide, the average rate for suicide is 18.4 out of 100,000. The rate is higher in Western Slope counties.

In Mesa and Rio Blanco counties, for instance, the suicide rate is 21.7 and 28 out of 100,000, respectively.

The number of people considering suicide is staggering, Linwood said.

"One in 10 people are thinking about suicide in the general population of the United States," she said. "On the Western Slope,

it's one in five."

Among veterans on the Western Slope, the numbers are even higher.

"We know that our returning vets — of any era — are twice as likely to complete suicide," she said. "So, we're looking at one in two-and-a-half."

One reason for high rates is elevation, Linwood said. A recent study suggests lower oxygen content at high altitudes is linked to suicide.

Another risk factor is gun ownership, Linwood said. Gun owners are more likely to commit suicide, and Colorado has a high percentage of owners.

"Gun ownership in Colorado is 62 percent," she said.

Linwood said males are four times less likely to attempt suicide than females, but four times more likely to complete their attempts.

Guns are the reason, she said.

The key to stemming the deaths is intervention, which begins with communities, and not necessarily professionals, she said.

"I think it's our responsibility as a society to do this," she said. "If we don't want to live with these statistics, we need to do something.

"We can't wait for those people to wander into a mental health facility."

The first step is to recognize the warning signs, Linwood said.

The signs vary among situations. Some warnings can be as overt as a stated interest in dying. Other signs can be as subtle as withdrawal from activities.

Linwood said any sign — regardless of apparent severity — requires a direct approach.

"'Are you thinking about suicide?'" said Linwood. "It's difficult to say the 'S word,' but it absolutely needs to be said."

If a person is considering suicide, the next step is to evaluate the level of risk, she said.

"If they've been thinking about it for the past 30 days, or they think they might do it within 30 days, those are pretty big deals," Linwood said.

In those instances, people should be referred to a therapist, she said.

Linwood said it's also important to ask if the person has formulated a plan, which includes either a method of suicide, a date, or both.

"If they have a plan and access to the means, get them in to see somebody," Linwood said. "Don't leave them alone, make sure you get them the help they need right away."

Linwood said the skills learned in suicide prevention can save someone's life, and also save one's own well being.

Linwood said she lost friends and colleagues to suicide years ago in a previous career as a member of law enforcement.

"I've lived with survivor's guilt," she said. "I've lost a lot of people to suicide. I've lost a number of law enforcement friends. I've been the last call from two people. I will never forget that."

Recognizing the signs and asking questions will prevent that guilt, she said.

VFW Commander Mark Wick said the training was informative.

"I got a little more insight into what to look for and what questions to ask," he said. "I didn't realize there were that many people out there who were suicidal.

"They don't carry a sign saying, 'I need help.'"

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