"To the edge and back’ — one woman’s struggle with suicidal thoughts
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Call 911 if anyone is in danger
1-800-273-8255, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
888-207-4004, Mind Springs Health crisis line
Aspen Hope Center, 970-925-5858
Mantherapy.org, Colorado’s website geared toward men
Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition, information on prevention classes, 970-948-6108
Mind Springs Health locations across the Western Slope
Also, Glenwood Springs HEARTBEAT group for survivors after suicide, meets every second Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Glenwood Methodist Church. Info: 970-945-1398
SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS
• Threatening to hurt or kill oneself, looking for means (such as firearms) to kill oneself, and talking or writing about death or suicide.
• Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
• No sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
• Feeling trapped
• Withdrawal from friends, family and society
• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
• Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors, seemingly without thinking
• Dramatic mood changes
This is the second in a three-day series around the Aspen Hope Center’s “We Can Talk” campaign, encouraging people to open up and help eliminate the stigma that’s often associated with mental-health issues and suicide.
Sara Fawcett was to the point where she had a plan to take her own life when a close friend stepped in with a few simple, supportive words.
“I just want you to go and talk to a counselor,” Fawcett recalled her friend saying.
That was the day before this last Thanksgiving.
Fawcett followed through and called the Aspen Hope Center’s 24-hour crisis line. It was the second time in a year that she had reached out, only this time it was much more severe.
Within hours after an initial evaluation she said she was admitted to Cedar Springs Hospital, an acute trauma mental health facility in Colorado Springs.
“It was a very difficult place to be, and I was very angry when I got there,” Fawcett admits. “But it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”
For many years after moving to Silt seven years ago, Fawcett said she worked hard to mask her depression.
“I read all the self-help books, and I stayed busy by running and rock climbing and doing triathlons. My brain said I needed exercise,” she said. “But I finally reached a point.”
A realization that she couldn’t have children, a failed marriage and ensuing financial problems contributed to her mental state.
The gradual, downward spiral of major depression caught up with her in ways she was unable to recognize by herself; isolating herself and pushing away people who were reaching out to her.
“I was raised in a very stoic family, where mental illness was viewed as a weakness,” Fawcett said of growing up in Virginia.
Her mother died when she was 11 from the effects of alcoholism.
“I now know that she was very depressed, too, because that’s where I’ve been,” Fawcett said. “I’ve literally been to the edge and back.”
Fawcett firmly believes it’s important for people to open up about mental illness and its all-too-common outlet for those who are suffering — suicide.
That includes people who suffer from depression themselves, those who have lost a loved one or friend to suicide, and for the larger community to engage in that conversation.
That’s the message behind the Aspen Hope Center’s “We Can Talk” campaign, which encourages the larger community to talk openly about mental illness, to raise awareness of the resources that are available in the area, and to remove the stigma around the issue.
“What the Hope Center has brought to our valley is pretty groundbreaking,” said Janet Gordon of Carbondale, one of the many therapists with whom the Hope Center works to provide counseling for those in need.
The nonprofit organization, which is in its fifth year, serves as a referral agency for clinical programs and various mental health support services in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County.
In addition, it administers its own programs, including a 24-hour crisis line, an Intensive Outpatient Program for those needing help dealing with different degrees of depression, and various support groups, such as the Lifeline Group for those who have been impacted by the loss of a loved one or close friend to suicide.
“This is a wonderful place to live, but it can also be very difficult and challenging, sometimes even downright hard to live here,” Gordon said.
Local law enforcement, mental-health professionals and suicide coalitions report anecdotally that suicide rates in the mountains of Colorado are higher per-capita than the state average.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado as a whole has a higher average suicide rate — 19.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 2012 — than the national average, which was 12.4 per 100,000 in 2010 (the most recent year for which data was available).
“It’s about naming it, and claiming it,” Gordon said of the We Can Talk campaign, which also encourages people to learn to recognize when someone they know, whether it’s a family member, friend, co-worker or casual acquaintance, might be in need of help.
“It’s incredibly hard to start that conversation,” she said. “But when we don’t talk about it, things only get worse.
“You have to go beyond the surface level, ‘How are you?,’ ‘Oh, I’m good.”
“If you have a concern, take that extra step and really check in, ‘No, really, how are you?’”
OUT OF ISOLATION
Fawcett has seen how some people react when someone tells them they are feeling down, and it can be devastating.
“People will say, ‘Just pick yourself up by the bootstraps,’” she said. “That’s like telling someone who has a broken leg, ‘just get up and walk more, it will go away.’”
She said her reaction to her mother’s death was to not become like her mother.
“In retrospect, I now know that if someone had taken that step she might have found help,” Fawcett said. “But my mother’s mental illness was never recognized until it was too late.”
She now shares her message with families and anyone who thinks they may know someone who suffers from depression.
“If you have even an inkling that someone is struggling, ask the questions and really listen to the answers,” Fawcett said.
Her own condition ultimately required medication, which was administered the first day she went into clinical treatment at Cedar Springs. She vividly remembers her fourth day there.
“I sat up in bed, looked around, and said, ‘Yes, I’m in a mental health facility, and that’s OK,’” she said. “For the first time I could remember I felt hopeful. It was like someone switched on a light in my brain.”
Fawcett said she now realizes she will spend the rest of her life treating her mental illness.
One of the things that she said brought her back from the abyss was her love of her own family.
“I’m Aunt Sara, after all,” she said.
After coming out of her in-patient treatment, Fawcett said she as at a Christmas party where she was very honest with everyone about where she had been.
“I have to own it,” she said. “In many ways I’m on this journey alone, but it does help to talk about it, because I know I have the tools now to control it.”
She also makes a point to pay her gratitude to the Hope Center and the staff at Cedar Springs.
“Every community needs a support center like Aspen Hope,” she said. “And mental health workers are angels.”
(Thursday: A conversation with some area residents who have suffered the loss of loved ones to suicide, and their story about opening up and sharing their message. Read Part One here.)
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