Suicide Prevention Forum Takes Steps To Reverse Local Trend of Self-Inflicted Deaths

Trevor Phipps

In the last few months, Teller County citizens have been heartbroken after the area  experienced two tragic murde/ suicide incidents in a span of less than two months.

In that same time period, other parts of the Pikes Peak region also saw a handful of similar situations where a person took someone’s life before taking their own. In addition, the rate of local suicides on a per capita basis has far exceeded that of the state average, according to current statistics.

In the aftermath of the recent sad tragedies and this growing self-inflicted death trend, area residents have become focused on suicide awareness and prevention tactics more than ever. Last week, the community came together during the first annual Suicide Awareness Symposium that took place at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park.

The event lasted all day and was put on by Teller County’s Suicide Prevention Project Coordinator Ashlee Shields with the Pikes Peak Community Health Partnership. The symposium featured several speakers and it started with Teller County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dan Williams.

Shields was employed to help come up with ways to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health illness and create awareness within the community.

“Most suicides in Teller County are with males between the ages of 45 and 65,” Shields said. “And there is a huge cultural aspect to that so we are working on how we reach that demographic but also how we bring awareness to the issue here. One of the ways we came up with was to start an annual suicide awareness symposium because every year things change. Especially post COVID, suicides skyrocketed. So, if we continue to make that a goal to reduce suicides in Teller County, at the same time we are improving the mental health of residents and ending the stigma and all of the things that go along with it.”

The event started with professionals in the field talking about mental health issues and people who have lost close ones to suicide. One speech focused on how to flip the script and use the benefits of a rural community in ways that can spread awareness.

During the day, another speaker talked about how people can start the conversation with someone who may be struggling with mental health issues. They talked about how to talk to people about it and they struck down the myth that talking to someone about suicide is a bad thing.

The second half of the day was focused on resiliency, grief, and dealing with the aftermath of suicide. There were speakers that spoke about their own experiences of dealing with mental health issues.

There were then other speakers that talked about how to grieve a loss by suicide. The last speaker then talked about the importance of self-maintenance and emotional resiliency.

County Commissioner Dan Williams said that the symposium was a good mix of people talking about their personal experiences and mental health professionals. “In the military, all of our programs were called suicide prevention,” Williams said. “And the truth is that you can’t prevent all suicides. We try really, really hard, and we would like to, but awareness is closer to the reality if we can prevent most of them. I also said that if this symposium can save just one life here in Teller County, then it is worthwhile. If you see something, say something. That is kind of the theme.”

Options for People Who Struggle with Mental Health Issues

Shields emphasized the fact that people who struggle with mental health illnesses have several options for help including calling the new help number 988 and the Colorado Crisis Services line at 844-493-8255. She said that people who might experience mental health issues but aren’t to the point of calling the hotline can do things like contact their primary care provider or reach out to someone with the Ute Pass Regional Ambulance District’s Mental Health Assessment Program (MAP).

“When you call 911 and you tell them what you are struggling with, what they will do instead of sending out all of the bells and whistles, they will send out a specially trained team to sit down with you and talk to you about what your needs are,” Shields said. “And then they will get you connected in real time with a mental health provider depending on your needs.”

For those that do call a hotline, the person on the other end will listen to the person in need and then decide the next steps to take depending on the situation. Shields pointed out that the services also work for people who know someone that might be suffering from a mental health issue and the hotline operators can help a person talk to someone else dealing with problems as well.

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention also helps people learn how to talk to someone who is suffering. Shields said that her organization is also offering two free programs called ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and Mental Health First Aid Training in both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek.

The first suicide symposium was sponsored in part by the Gold Camp Café in Cripple Creek as they provided coffee for the 130 attendees. Other sponsors include Colorado Community Health Alliance, Family Care Center, Peak View Behavioral Health, Teller County Department of Public Health and Environment, the Peppertree Restaurant, the Levy family and Adult Daybreak.