REPS works to prevent suicide, educate public |

REPS works to prevent suicide, educate public

Stuart Handloff/For the Saturday Morning Press

The mission of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (REPS) is to preserve, protect, and promote life by providing the Yampa Valley with a group of trained volunteers, collaborative initiatives, educational programs, compassionate survivor care and proactive suicide prevention.

Mental health care and suicide prevention is a daunting task in Northwestern Colorado. With a population of 36,000 spread over 7,000 square miles, combined with a western “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality and easy access to firearms, suicide has become a persistent problem for Routt and Moffat counties.

Together, both counties have a 60 percent higher rate of suicides per 100,000 population (29.5) than the State of Colorado average (18.2) and over double the national average (12.7). The Colorado Department of Health and Environment lists 56 deaths in the two counties attributable to suicide between 2009 and 2013, one of the leading causes of all deaths in the region. Each year there are well over a hundred suicide attempts, many of which go unreported, or the equivalent of one attempt every three days. What specific incident, behavior, or mental illness drove each of these 56 people to take their own life may never be known. What unites them all is a feeling of hopelessness, a lack of mental health treatment, and access to lethal means.

REPS aims to eliminate suicide in Northwestern Colorado by approaching the crisis on all three fronts. We provide educational programs to give tools to everyone in the community for recognizing the signs of hopelessness and depression. QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) workshops are offered free of charge and act as suicide prevention first aid instruction. If more members of our community were aware of the signs of pre-suicidal behavior, the greater the likelihood that lives would be saved by connecting suicidal persons to community mental health facilities.

Suicide is the one cause of death that is entirely preventable. Suicidal behavior is almost always linked with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug/alcohol abuse, and other mental illnesses: all diseases that are treatable. Few of us would think of living with untreated diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or any other array of chronic illnesses. Depression and mental illness are no different; treatment is available and affordable for everyone.

What is different here in the Wild West is easy access to lethal means of suicide. Three-quarters of the 56 people who killed themselves in Routt and Moffat counties between 2009 and 2013 used a firearm. Research shows that if access to lethal means of suicide is more difficult, fewer people kill themselves. If their original plan to grab a gun from under the bed is unavailable, they will be less likely to find another option. REPS, with support from the State of Colorado Gunshop Project, is beginning to work with local gunshops, firearms instructors and regular gun owners to encourage them to be their brother’s keeper: watch their fellow gun enthusiasts for signs of suicidal behavior and offer to protect them from lethal means.

Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide believes it is these connections with friends and family, keeping us safe from ourselves when we are struggling, that will eliminate suicide in the Yampa Valley. We invite everyone to become part of this connecting bond: take a one-hour QPR class, or a two-day ASIST workshop; or simply be unafraid to ask a friend or family member who is struggling if they are considering suicide. For more tools to better connect with your friends and family, contact REPS at 970-819-2232 or info@

Stuart Handloff is the grants And Administration for REPS.

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