Guest commentary: When you die by suicide, you don’t end your pain. You transfer it
On the third Tuesday of each month, Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village hosts a meeting that no one wants to attend.
I visited the church in October, shortly after dusk. A sign pointed me to a meeting room in the back of the building, at the end of a dark hallway.
Inside the room, two dozen women and men sat quietly around a conference table. They each introduced themselves and then shared the names of their children — a son or a daughter who had died by suicide.
When my turn came, I talked about my cousin Melissa, who was like a sister to me. She killed herself on New Year’s Day in 2015, at the age of 35.
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Huddled there in a circle of grief, I knew we were not alone. Colorado lost 81 children and 1,094 adults to suicide last year.
My family and I will be tortured for the rest of our lives by our failure to prevent Melissa’s death. There’s nothing I could tell her parents, or those in the church that night, to ease their pain.
But the parents at Bethany Lutheran weren’t looking to me for solace. They just wanted to know how they could make a difference — how they could spare other families the anguish they’ve suffered.
Colorado’s next legislative session, which begins Friday, can offer some answers. At Mental Health Colorado, we’re bringing a broad range of proposals to state lawmakers.
Among other requests, we’re asking the General Assembly and the governor to:
Fund the Zero Suicide framework, training health care, education and law enforcement personnel to spot the early warning signs of suicidal ideation.
Strengthen the enforcement of mental health parity laws, requiring public and private insurers to provide sufficient coverage for the treatment of mental-health and substance-use disorders.
Create a statewide bed tracking system, enabling Coloradans to find the nearest available psychiatric or substance-use facility.
Adopt a “red flag” law, allowing judges in certain circumstances to order the temporary removal of weapons from individuals deemed a significant danger to themselves or others.
Expand the School Health Professional Grant Program, placing nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists in more schools.
Boost funding for school-based health centers, particularly in rural Colorado.
Increase access to housing and supportive services for individuals with serious mental-health or substance-use disorders.
It’s an ambitious agenda. And with only 120 days until legislators adjourn, we don’t have much time to enact it.
But for thousands of families like mine, help can’t come soon enough.
Andrew Romanoff is the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado (www.mentalhealthcolorado.org), the state’s leading advocate for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance-use disorders. Romanoff served as speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.
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