Aspen Hope Center expanding its reach |

Aspen Hope Center expanding its reach

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen Hope Center isn’t waiting for individuals in need of mental-health services to pick up the phone, though plenty of people are. It is enlisting the eyes and ears of the community in its effort to reach out to those who are suicidal.

So far, 268 area residents have been trained in suicide prevention and more are signed up to learn how to assist those around them – be they friends, co-workers or strangers – who may be contemplating suicide, according to Carrie Marsh, community outreach coordinator for the Hope Center.

The center opened its doors June 1, providing quick access to mental-health services through an office in the Aspen Business Center and via a “Hopeline” (925-5858) that is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by a trained staff of clinicians.

By the end of November, the center had served 330 clients, roughly half of whom were in need of immediate help.

With the center’s ongoing outreach, involving Marsh and her colleagues, referrals are likely to come from an ever-widening circle of area residents.

Marsh is among 26 local individuals who have become QPR suicide-prevention trainers. QPR – an acronym for question, persuade, refer – is an approach to suicide prevention developed by Dr. Paul Quinnett, a Seattle clinical psychologist who came to Aspen last August to teach his techniques to the core group. They, in turn, are training others in the community, including police officers and dispatchers, firefighters, teachers and business representatives.

“We’re using a program that’s proven effective,” said Dr. Jonathan Birnkrant, local psychiatrist and the center’s medical director. “We’ve got people out there who are making a difference.”

On Tuesday, Marsh gave the QPR training to a group of Aspen police officers. Basalt High School has committed to training all of its students and faculty – some 450 people in all. So far, about 150 people have received the instruction at the school, she said.

The Aspen Skiing Co. intends to arrange for the training, starting with its supervisory staff, in the new year, and members of the Pitkin County Bar Association have requested the instruction, as well, according to Marsh. Roaring Fork Transportation Authority supervisors have already been trained in QPR.

“We hope, in the new year, to have trainings open to the public. We want this to be available to everyone,” Marsh said.

QPR, like CPR, can save a life, she said. The training teaches individuals to talk to someone they suspect is in trouble and guide them to help, often through the Aspen Hope Center.

“The most important part of the training is asking the question: Are you going to kill yourself? It has to be that blunt,” Marsh said.

The training sessions themselves often hit close to home, as the participants have frequently been touched by someone’s suicide in their own lives.

“We make someone cry every week,” Marsh said. “We always have people who have personal stories.”

“I don’t think there’s been a training yet when somebody didn’t talk to the trainer about something in their own life,” Birnkrant agreed.

The Aspen Hope Center fields calls from individuals who are suicidal or psychotic, or struggling with such challenges as depression, anxiousness, family problems and substance abuse or addiction. Others seek out the center on behalf of a friend or family member.

The center’s staff refers clients to the appropriate therapist or agency and follows up to make sure the individual is getting help. In a crisis situation, a team responds immediately, day or night, going to the distressed individual or meeting the person at the center’s offices. The follow-up care may include daily counseling, with the cost picked up by the center.

The center, which launched with a $200,000 budget this year, including $100,000 from the Aspen Medical Foundation, will host a Hockey for Hope fundraiser on Dec. 30 at the Aspen Ice Garden.

A 5:30 p.m. public skate will be followed by a 7 p.m. hockey game pitting the Aspen Motherpuckers against members of the Aspen Police Department. There will also be a DJ and on-ice contests with prizes.

A $10 donation will be requested at the door.

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