Twenty-two years ago, Kymber Ryan was ready to take her own life. The possibility suddenly had become real, and it scared her so much that she sought help.
On Monday during an Aspen Hope Center community event, Ryan will share the story of how she changed the dialogue inside her head and gained control of her life. She won’t be alone: Two others who lived through similar situations will share their stories, along with a handful of community members who have been impacted by suicide in the family, including Kim Viera and Candice and Olivia Oksenhorn. Shane Todd and Renee Mackie, who lost a sibling to suicide, also will be on hand to talk about their loss.
“Because they got help and were able to move forward in a direction with their life, they want to share that,” said Sandy Iglehart, Aspen Hope Center board president and mother of Todd and Mackie. “They want people to know that there is help, and there is a way to feel better.”
For those continuing to struggle in the Roaring Fork Valley, which saw four suicides in the span of a month earlier this year, Ryan echoed Iglehart’s message: “You’re not alone, so come discover alternative ways to manage your mental-health issues.”
When seeking help, Ryan went through four councilors before she found a woman that she connected with. They met twice a week for a period of time and then once a week. Eventually Ryan, who is celebrating her 18th wedding anniversary with her husband next month, had the tools and medication to help herself.
“We need to desensitize the word suicide because it sounds — I mean you don’t talk about it. That’s just something you don’t talk about, and yes, we can talk about it,” Ryan said. “It’s OK. It’s not an ugly word. If more and more people will talk, instead of taking the action of it, I think that’s helpful.”
The free event, which takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Wheeler Opera House, will feature a panel of experts, including keynote speaker Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, a leading researcher and associate professor in psychiatry at Columbia University. According to Gerstenhaber, almost 50 percent of those who commit suicide see their primary-care doctor a month before they die. Gerstenhaber says the greatest key to prevention is identification, an approach that has led to her work on the C-SSRS questionnaire, which is used by the military and primary-care physicians for suicide assessment. She said it allows mental health to be monitored the same way blood pressure is monitored.
“The good news is we can be doing that. We can be asking these questions everywhere to everybody,” she said.
Gerstenhaber will be accompanied by an Armed Forces official from Fort Carson, who will discuss the high rate of suicide in the military. There also will be an eight-person panel of mental-health experts, including Pathfinders executive director Allison Daily, Mind Springs Health’s Andrea Pazdera and Anika Neal, president of a local arm of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The event also will feature a Q-and-A session, suicide-prevention tips and information on local resources.