Forum to address mental health issues |

Forum to address mental health issues

Last year, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide trained about 500 people how to recognize the signs of depression and suicide and to intervene to save the life of someone suffering from mental illness.

On Tuesday, almost 600 teachers and students at Steamboat Springs High School received the training.

Ronna Autrey, executive director of REPS, said training local youths in how to respond to a mentally ill friend or sibling is just one more step toward a healthier Yampa Valley community. She hopes to conduct similar trainings in Moffat County.

Autrey and a panel of local mental health leaders and nonprofit officials will be on hand Tuesday evening at a forum on mental illness, violence and community safety.

The discussion takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College’s auditorium in Steamboat and will include input from Autrey, Colorado West Mental Health Regional Director Tom Gangel, Advocates Building Peaceful Communities Executive Director Diane Moore and others.

With recent mass shootings and mental illness in the national spotlight, Gangel said he hopes the program can help dispel myths and stigma about mental illness and violence.

According to a 2006 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, about one in 20 violent crimes are committed by those with severe mental illness.

“We always want people to understand a couple of different things,” Gangel said. “One is that mentally ill people really aren’t dangerous, and we want to do our best to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment.”

It’s the stigma that could be the most detrimental by preventing those with mental health issues from seeking treatment out of embarrassment or fear.

Mental illness and suicide remain a concern for mental health care workers in the Yampa Valley.

Moffat County’s suicide death rate in teens ages 15 to 19 was four times higher per capita from 2005 to 2009 than the state average, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. For all ages, Moffat County’s suicide death rate from 2005 to 2009 was two times higher per capita than the rest of the state.

There were three suicides in Moffat County last year, and there already has been one this year. There were five suicides in Routt County in 2012. During the past 10 years, 53 deaths in Routt and Moffat counties have been attributed to suicide, making it a leading cause of death in Northwest Colorado.

Autrey said that there’s no sure pattern to when, where and how suicides occur and that early intervention and treatment is the only answer.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a better handle on how to be better neighbors and better co-workers, or if you have someone with mental illness in your family?” she asked.

Gangel said the event also will include discussion about local treatment options and resources.

“I really want people to understand treatment works and that mentally ill people can be treated; we can help them,” Gangel said.

In addition to this week’s community forum, Autrey was part of a group that met a couple of weeks ago in Craig to discuss revamping suicide support groups and training in Moffat County.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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