A suicide-prevention group in the Roaring Fork Valley has experienced a surge of requests for information since Aspen Times Arts and Entertainment Editor Stewart Oksenhorn took his life Feb. 2.
Aspen Hope Center Executive Director Michelle Muething said her staff hasn’t had enough people to answer all telephone calls from people seeking information on how to recognize when someone needs help and how to provide it. There were three suicides in the upper and middle valley during a 10-day period, she said.
Oksenhorn’s death highlighted the issue because it was so openly discussed in the newspaper by grief-stricken family, friends and colleagues. Oksenhorn was well-known and widely loved. His death was a shock to many people.
The Aspen Hope Center gathered mental-health experts, medical-industry workers, former educators, police officers and clergy at a meeting in Basalt on Thursday to brainstorm on how to effectively reach more people with suicide-prevention information.
The Hope Center, with its main office in Basalt and satellites in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, has trained 3,000 people in suicide prevention in the four years since its founding, according to Muething.
“I don’t duck my head at that at all,” she said. “(But) something’s missing.”
As good as the efforts have been to reach out, she advised the group that more needs to be done.
“We’re not miracle workers,” Muething said. “We can only help people who walk through the front doors.”
The challenge is to get them to take those steps. The Hope Center is offering a flurry of QPR Suicide Prevention Training, part of a successful national program. There will be six classes in two weeks throughout the valley, including one in Spanish. The teachers provide information that is easy to learn. They are free and open to the public.
Aspen resident Kymber Ryan, a suicide prevention advocate, said ways must be found to make suicide less taboo among people thinking about it and the population in general.
“We’ve got to make it less scary to talk about,” she said.
Society has created a stigma that it is a sign of weakness, particularly for men, to seek help on issues such as suicide, Ryan said.
“It’s not a weakness. It’s a strength. I’d like to see that in one of the (information) campaigns,” she said.
Ryan suggested plastering fliers around the valley that guide people with concerns to the Aspen Hope Center. Multiple group members suggested distributing fliers advertising the suicide-prevention classes and others identifying signs that a person might be contemplating suicide.
Sandra Iglehart, chairwomen of the Aspen Hope Center’s board of directors, said she sees signs that the valley is coming together to address suicide issues. Four years ago, after the death of her daughter, she said she was the only person speaking publicly in the valley on prevention.
“Everybody is galvanized to do something,” Iglehart said of the current atmosphere. She urged the group not to lose momentum.
Numerous suggestions were made by members of the group for further exploration at another meeting in early March. One suggestion was to enlist help at doctors’ offices. Patients could be screened for mental issues. If flags emerged, the offices could contact mental-health experts.
Other ideas included public lectures focusing on issues such as the relation between alcohol and depression, efforts to marshal resources from legal advice to accounting for people identified to be suicidal and in need of expertise in some area of their lives, and special events to build awareness, such as the Hockey for Hope fundraiser.
Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff and Assistant Coroner Michael Buglione said the efforts can pay off.
“We’re not going to save everyone. We’re going to reduce it,” he said.
The group members will try to narrow the focus of ideas when they reconvene in early March. Meanwhile, the Aspen Hope Center will concentrate on the QPR Suicide Prevention Training at the following times:
Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Library.
Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. in Aspen at the Pitkin County Library.
Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in Carbondale at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m. in Basalt at the Midvalley Health Institute.
March 11 at a time to be determined. The class will be taught in Spanish at Carbondale’s St. Mary’s.
“Everybody is galvanized to do something.”
Sandra Iglehart, Aspen Hope Center board member