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Community panel shares insights on suicide issue

“We need to talk honestly about sadness and struggle.”

By Kristy Acuff

Approximately 40 community members gathered to listen to a panel of experts and learn about suicide prevention, intervention and recovery for those affected by suicide on May 23 at the Crested Butte Community School. The six-person panel began by explaining their individual work to address mental health needs in the valley, followed by a question and answer session moderated by KBUT news director Chad Reich.

“Suppose I notice a friend or coworker who is not acting like themselves, they are withdrawing, not returning phone calls—what are some steps I can take?” asked Reich.

“Suicide prevention is everybody’s job. It’s all about awareness and being willing to talk—you don’t have to be a mental health professional,” said panelist Stacey Petersen, counselor at the Crested Butte Community School. “Don’t be afraid to ask the question about suicide. People worry about asking directly, but that should not be the case. It’s better to be direct.”

“We want people to be open in conversations and know that it’s okay not to be okay. It is everybody’s business and we can help each other,” said panelist Scott Cantrill, Western State Colorado University student health and wellness counselor. “Face to face connection is crucial and being willing to share our own stories of struggle from a perspective of ‘hope, help and strength’ instead of ‘shock, trauma and sensationalizing.’”

“Be willing to stay with a person who is struggling until they can get professional help or call for assistance from the police if it is a crisis,” said panelist Sarah Kramer, assistant regional manager for the Center for Mental Health. “Just telling them a phone number to call in crisis is not going to be enough. You have to stay with them and help them make that call, or call for them. I know counseling is not for everyone, but we have open access everyday at the Center for Mental Health in Gunnison. If you come in an hour before our doors close, you will be seen. And if it’s after hours, you can call our crisis line.”

“We are here to help you. Don’t be afraid to call us,” said officer James Beda from the Crested Butte Marshal’s Office. “I want everyone to know that we don’t take anybody to jail on a mental health hold. We take them to the Gunnison Valley Hospital.”

“It’s extremely important that we get rid of the stigma of asking for help with mental health. We need to talk honestly about sadness and struggle. None of us are exempt from struggle and being genuine, being real, helps tremendously in reducing that stigma,” added panelist Nancy Osmundson, co-founder of CB Hope. “CB Hope is organizing support groups and peer support for people struggling. We have loads of resources on our Facebook page, CB Hope. We know that finances can be a barrier for many who seek counseling and I have had multiple community providers say they’ll give free sessions.” The next meeting for CB Hope is May 31 at 6 p.m.

Most recently, the CB Hope group is helping organize a men’s support group led by Jason Berv. The group will meet for five Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in downtown Crested Butte beginning June 6. Billed as an “alternative to traditional therapy, the program will focus on practical and simple ways to find relief from suffering, no matter how that might be showing up in your life.”

As a focus on suicide prevention, two free sessions of Safe Talk training will be held on June 11 at the Crested Butte Town Hall, one at 8:30 a.m. and the second at 5 p.m. The three-hour training is open to anyone 15 years or older and will focus on how to recognize and engage people who might be having thoughts of suicide and to connect them with community resources trained in suicide prevention. The trainings are sponsored by the Health Coalition of the Gunnison Valley.

The coalition is also offering a free two-day ASIST training for professionals in the valley on June 21-22. RSVP for either event at kcommerford@gunnisoncounty.org.

In addition to the focus on prevention, one audience member asked about crisis intervention and the challenges it presents in such a remote valley. “I work for the ambulance and one of our concerns is that there is no access to counselors or mental health services after hours or on the weekends,” said Leah Fisher.

“When you call our crisis line, we can put you onto televideo with one of our crisis staff on call,” said Kramer. “In addition, we are in the process of putting together grants for a crisis stabilization 24-bed unit in Montrose. I know it’s not Gunnison, but it is closer than our current closest mental health facility in Grand Junction. We all need to continue to work on this until we can say ‘We have had zero suicides this year.’ We can reach that goal together. It can happen.”

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