Recent suicide ‘cluster’ in Roaring Fork Valley prompts concern by officials
If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, there are resources available locally and nationally.
Colorado Crisis Services is a free, 24-hour organization that helps with mental health, substance abuse or emotional help. Confidential services are available at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. Reach them online at coloradocrisisservices.org.
Aspen Hope Center provides a free, 24-hour confidential Hopeline for anyone who needs help or is in a crisis. Reach the crisis line at 970-925-5858 (Aspen) or 970-306-4673 (Eagle River Valley).
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a 24/7 support line available by calling 1-800-273-8255
Public health officials expressed concern last week after four Roaring Fork Valley residents died by suicide in the past month, including three deaths in a five-day period.
“That’s a lot,” said Jess Beaulieu, Pitkin County’s mental health program administrator. “This is really unusual. It’s a cluster of suicides.”
It began with a suicide in Carbondale in late September, according to law enforcement sources and Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center. However, three more deaths occurred beginning Oct. 9 with a man found in Aspen, followed by the suicide of another man Oct. 11 in Snowmass Village and a third Sunday in Basalt, according to Snowmass Village Police Chief Brian Olson, Aspen Police Officer Braulio Jerez and Muething.
“Four different people, four different ages, four different walks of life, four different life circumstances,” Muething said. “We always seek questions of why. I don’t know if there are any answers.
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“Life is tough.”
Many involved in law enforcement and mental health in the Roaring Fork Valley pointed to the offseason as a possible source of emotional trauma. Social networks can break down as people’s jobs and housing are interrupted by the slow-down, leaving instability or more downtime as a consequence, Beaulieu said.
“All of that can contribute to mental illness or a lack of mental health,” she said.
Whatever the source, the problem appears to be getting worse.
Law enforcement in Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village responded to 199 mental health-related calls in the past three months, Beaulieu said.
“That is a really big number,” she said. “There were 78 calls in September, which was higher than (those in) July and August.”
Aspen Valley Hospital is seeing double the number of mental health-related cases this year over last year, Beaulieu said. And not only are the number of mental health calls rising, so is the severity, she said. Doctors are seeing more acute mental health cases requiring what is known as an “M-1 evaluation,” which means the person is unstable enough to be evaluated at the psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction, Beaulieu said.
Muething said she’s not sure how much stock to put into theories blaming the shoulder season for an uptick in suicides.
“It’s a theory,” she said. “(But) it’s not what prompted at least three of these (latest suicides) … which was mental health issues.”
The Aspen Hope Center offers emotional trauma counseling services in Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties, and none of those communities have experienced a suicide spike similar to the Roaring Fork Valley in the past month, Muething said.
“There’s a million theories about suicide,” she said. “The bottom line is if we knew how to prevent suicides, suicides would stop.”
The best way to stop a suicide is to reach out if you are worried about a friend or family member, Muething said. And if the first person you talk to isn’t receptive, keep reaching out until you find someone who is, she said.
“Become an advocate for someone you know is in trouble,” Muething said. “Don’t stop trying. Don’t assume you know someone and you think they’ll be OK.”
Suicide affects the wellness of a community as a whole, especially one as small the Roaring Fork Valley, Beaulieu said.
“I know five people who knew each of these people (who died),” she said. “Word travels quickly and it really rocks people’s worlds. It’s much more tangible and visceral than you would find in a larger, more urban landscape.
“There’s an awareness that it’s not just the suicides that are tragic, but there’s some sensitivity that this is really upsetting for those of us still here.”
Numerous resources exist for those in crisis. The Aspen Hope Center also offers trauma counseling for those left behind after a suicide.
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.