What Can We DO?

31 Dec 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve and our community is grieving the loss of several precious young people. The commonly accepted stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In her excellent article about an online petition concerning our recent community tragedies, a local young woman gave a platform via Change.org to the anger that so many were feeling.

Then a hard working GJHS teacher wrote a letter to the editor highlighting what we all know - that teachers labor under enormous grief as well. Community agencies are hosting yet another round of meetings such as were held 5 years ago during another period of horrible crisis.

It’s time for our community to move determinedly through the denial of grief and make a cogent plan. We need to accept the fact that many more than 40 psychiatric beds on the entire Western Slope are necessary, and support Mind Springs in building an adequate hospital to meet our needs. It is also common knowledge that exercise and community activity eases stress and depression. We need not one, but multiple, community recreation centers based on zip code and population.

Let’s stop depending solely upon privately funded nonprofits such as NAMI, WCSPF, Heartbeat, and Hospice to provide the bulk of prevention and postvention care and support. Let’s insist on paying for all school district employees, crossing guards and custodians included, to be trained in Mental Health First Aid each year.

Let’s accept the fact that Mesa County is #1 in child abuse and foster care need. No more trying to reinvent the wheel! The White Mountain Apache Celebrating Life system is working to drastically reduce suicide as is Zero Suicide. Let us choose a proven path for overall community health and implement it right now for these public health maladies and adjust as necessary.

It’s the New Year.  As a community let’s decide to turn over a new leaf in our suicide response methods.  My family has suffered two losses to suicide and there is still grief, even after many years. People rarely discuss the nearly unbearable personal loss suicide brings, and people never talk about how suicide deaths are an unacceptably expensive monetary burden for a community. Each tragedy upsets the lives and livelihoods of a minimum of six other community members.

Depending upon which publicly available data that you access, people at highest risk of suicide are community helpers - people in professions such as peace officers, physicians, clergy, farmers… Given that peace officers - for instance - are at higher risk in general, there is no reason for our highly-trained police force to be utilized as a shuttle service for patient transportation to and from West Springs Hospital. This can be traumatic to both patient and officer and needs to stop. Same for the foolishness of using our fire department to transport medical patients. We need private medical transport companies in our area whose sole purpose is transportation. Right now.

The Children’s Safety Network Colorado 2015 State Fact Sheet shows suicide as the leading cause of death in Colorado for children and youth ages 10-24. Children and youth need support. Period. Let’s stop arguing and insist that District 51 and CMU pay for mandatory Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for all employees. If Ebola was the leading cause of death common sense would dictate universal sanitation and disease recognition training. MHFA is simple information and doesn’t expect the learner to cure suicide – it’s first aid.
The fiscal irresponsibility of ignoring the enormity of our suicide losses is indecent on multiple levels, primarily personal. Still, a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that community preparedness pays. We need to budget for sensible priorities and adjust as necessary.

So, what can we as individuals, social groups, faith communities, and businesses do to help with suicide reduction? First, remove the word “committed” from our vocabulary. Use instead “attempted”, “died of”, or “died by.” Second, ask attempt survivors how they stay alive! Survivors are the experts and nobody is asking. If you are an attempt survivor and you know someone who has attempted… the words “when that happened to me” are so welcoming. Attempted Suicide Help (ASH) has tons of free info online, as does Suicide Anonymous and Alternatives to Suicide at WMRLC.

Further, family members, friends, and coworkers can take free local classes, attend free groups, and start free groups with free curriculum! Make use of free SAMHSA materials, the Veteran’s Art Center, Active Minds forums, NAMI presentations, DBSA apps, GriefShare, Mental Health in The Church YouTubes, The Compassionate Friends, Suicide Loss Grief Groups, Mind Springs peer groups and glasses, AFSP Survivor Outreach Program, or American Association of Suicidology. All this is FREE!

If you are pressed for time and can spend $30, take the QPR gatekeeper class online in your living room. None of this will make you magically able to save someone’s life, but it will make you vastly more confident in how to approach someone you know who you suspect is struggling.

Faith communities can review free curricula to incorporate into children’s and youth programs. Hold a bake sale for Heartbeat as a conversation starter. Businesses – especially health care providers - can purchase annual subscriptions to Esperanza, bpHope Magazine, SZ Magazine, and NAMI Advocate magazines for your lobbies.

After someone suffers an attempt or a suicide loss take chicken soup to them and their family and sit for a while. Finally, especially concerning suicide, if you have the choice to be correct or kind – choose to be kind.

The above was a 3 part letter to the editor of my local paper. The community was reeling from multiple youth deaths. People were going to meetings and yelling at the officials. This was the second round of community response since my daughter died and the death rate had climbed again, but this time suicide was taking more children and young adults. I wish loss advocacy groups would publish an advisory regarding what is available to the public, such as magazines, pamphlets, and free classes. We need to be sharing our info freely so that people have a chance to find support wherever they are.

Erica KitzmanComment