Aspen Hope Center sustains efforts to reduce suicides in valley |

Aspen Hope Center sustains efforts to reduce suicides in valley

The Aspen Hope Center hasn’t eased up in its campaign to reduce suicides in the Roaring Fork Valley since February, when four people in the area took their lives in just 10 days.

The center will hold the latest in a string of training sessions, community forums and workshops Monday. Dr. Kelly Posner-Gerstenhaber will give a presentation and provide training on a special suicide-assessment procedure at the Pitkin County Library in Aspen from 5:30 to 7 p.m. People interested in attending are urged to RSVP to the Aspen Hope Center at 970-925-5858.

Posner-Gerstenhaber, director of Columbia University’s suicide-risk-assessment program, headed a team that created the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. The system has been clinically tested as an effective tool for assessing suicide risk and has been widely adopted throughout the country by medical facilities, nonprofits and state institutions.

Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center, said the organization adopted Columbia’s rating scale recently after it spent a year evaluating its program.

Aspen Hope Center will offer free training at a different town in the Roaring Fork Valley on each Tuesday evening in September, to mark Suicide Prevention Month.

“It’s much more specific than the training questions we used to use,” Muething said. In layman’s terms, the questionnaire developed for the Columbia system gets the person performing the assessment on the same wavelength as the person facing mental-health issues, Muething said.

For example, instead of merely asking someone if they have contemplated suicide, the Columbia system asks if they have taken any action that could lead to the end of their life, such as the purchase of a handgun, according to Muething.

The Colorado Mountain College staff already has undertaken training from the Aspen Hope Center in the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. In September, the staff and volunteers at Response and the Aspen Elks will undertake the training.

The Aspen Hope Center will offer free training at a different town in the Roaring Fork Valley on each Tuesday night in September to mark Suicide Prevention Month. More information will be available Monday on the center’s website at

The Aspen Hope Center has reached out to the public with large, general events and to subsets of the population through small, partnering groups in the past six months. Muething said the staff and the board were determined to embark on a sustained campaign after the rash of suicides, which included Aspen Times Arts and Entertainment Editor Stewart Oksenhorn. She said the community has responded well in learning how to recognize when a person needs help and how to provide help.

“The effort by the community to engage with us is going through the roof,” she said.

Welfare checks by law enforcement agencies have gone up “exponentially” in the past six months, she said. Law enforcement officers will check to see if a person is all right if contacted by a person with a legitimate concern.

There has been one confirmed suicide in the middle and upper valley since the February incidents, according to Muething. An elderly woman in Basalt called 911 and said “suicide” while giving her address before taking her life, according to authorities.

The Aspen Hope Center is urging valley residents to take advantage of the free training of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale to help prevent additional suicides. Muething said it’s fortunate that Posner-Gerstenhaber, who lives in Aspen part time, is available to share her expertise.

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