More than 800 people attended a suicide prevention summit Thursday focused on gathering feedback from the community about its needs and training attendees about how talk to someone who may be suicidal.
San Juan Basin Public Health held the event at Miller Middle School to kick off a long-term response to the region’s high rate of suicide. There have been nine suicides in La Plata County since the beginning of the year.
It’s a growing problem across the country and in Colorado, said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health.
“No one is going to solve this alone,” she said.
The suicide rate across the country has increased steadily from 1999 through 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among teens, it is the second-leading cause of death.
In the five-county region of Southwest Colorado, the annual suicide rate is 28 deaths per 100,000 people, said keynote speaker Susan Becker, a psychology professor at Colorado Mesa University. Nationally, the suicide rate is 13 deaths per 100,000 people annually.
She advised that carving out private time to listen to those who seem distressed and asking a person directly about suicide can help lower the anxiety he or she may have about talking about it.
“It’s really just about one person talking to another,” Becker said during an intervention training session.
She also emphasized that once someone tells you he or she may be thinking about suicide, it’s key to ask if that person can be safe while you seek help or the two of you seek help together.
“Thinking about suicide is never a secret one of your friends tells you,” she said.
A suicide can have a contagious effect, and that is stronger among teens because it affects an entire school and a broad number of people have a reaction, she said.
A recently released series on Netflix, “13 Reasons Why,” based on a novel, may have a negative effect on teens at-risk of attempting suicide, and Becker advised parents to watch the series with their children.
San Juan Basin Public Health plans to hold more trainings and meet with stakeholders to talk about how to fill needs in the community, said Claire Ninde, a spokeswoman for the department. A summary of Thursday’s discussions will be emailed to summit participants.
Dr. Kim Caruso of Pediatric Partners of the Southwest said the area could benefit from more coordinated care for youths. She would like to see all the people working with a student, such as school counselors, behavioral health professionals and pediatricians, share information.
Ravyn Granholm, theater manager at the Henry Strater Theatre, attended with a few others who are interested in holding performances or workshops that would create conversations about suicide.
“I’m really floored by the turn out. It’s beautiful and inspirational, but it’s also really sad this needs to happen,” she said.
Her group, Peer2Peer, wants to reach youths through psychodrama and make sure they have people to talk to.
It’s often tough for those who feel like they don’t matter to talk to someone in a position of authority or a higher station, she said.