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Suicide: Our “Paradise Paradox,” Providing support to those struggling with depression

Part I: Spring season

~ a three part series ~

By Christine Osmundson

As the snow is melting and spring is among us we begin to think of rebirth and new beginnings. It can represent a time of love, hope, youth and growth for many; hiking and biking season is here! Yet, for many locals, people’s jobs are changing or ending with the off-season, thus creating financial stressors. People are leaving town to go to warmer climates or extend their winter play days, which can lead to isolation for those who remain. This is a time where there is less opportunity to get together with friends, in part, because local restaurants and businesses are closing for the mud season. It’s easy for feelings of loneliness to arise, which leads to sadness and potentially depression.

Spring presents a time where suicide rates are highest. Intuitively, it makes sense for us to believe that suicide risk is highest in the months of winter—darker days, hibernation, calm reflections, isolation and withdrawal. Yet, it is actually spring—April and May—when suicide rates are 20 percent to 60 percent higher, according to Fotis Papadopoulos, professor of psychiatry at Uppsala University, Sweden.

So now that spring is upon us, it’s also a sad reminder for many who have lost beloved community members to suicide. Their loss is like tossing a rock into Long Lake and watching the waves that expand from that rock. The first wave represents the estimated six or more “suicide survivors” who have lost someone they deeply care about and are left grieving. The waves that follow represent an estimated 115 people who are affected throughout the community. Consequently, the loss of one is immense.

What can we do? We all have a role to play in suicide prevention and decreasing stigma attached to mental health. By starting the conversation, providing support and directing help to those in need and, very important, following up with those we care about, we can prevent suicide.

Depression is a disorder of mood that can be mysteriously painful to those experiencing it and not something that can be “willed away.” It can remain nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme forms. You might be surprised that hopelessness, not sadness, is a precursor to suicide. The pain of seeing someone you care about in the depths of clinical depression is almost as torturous as being depressed yourself.

If you know that a loved one is suffering with depression or suicidal ideation, your understanding of their illness and how you relate to this person can support his or her ability to get well. Here are some ways to help:

—Help the person understand that there is a problem and encourage them to seek professional help. Remind them that it takes courage and strength to ask for help and that it doesn’t imply a lack of emotional toughness for doing so.

—If someone you know is feeling depressed or is having suicidal ideation, have them make an appointment and/or accompany them to see their family doctor. If needed, their doctor will make a referral to a local therapist.

You or your loved one can contact your insurance company for a provider within your area. Look on the back of your insurance card for their number.

—Go to www.counselingcollaborativegunnison-crestedbutte.com or www.psychologytoday.com to find a local therapist. Contact the Gunnison Center for Mental Health to make an appointment with a psychiatrist and/or a counselor at (970) 641-0229.

—Educate yourself about suicide and depression at www.nimh.nih.org (National Institute for Mental Health);

—Provide emotional support to your loved one. People suffering from depression need compassion and understanding. The best communication is to ask, “How can I help?“ or, “How can I be a support to you?” Asking someone how they are doing will not cause suicide, it shows you care.

—Provide physical support by asking them to join you in low-stress activities such as a hike, bike ride, movies, or eating dinner together. You can also help with any daily routines they may be struggling with, such as running errands, shoveling the snow, watching kids, preparing meals, etc.

—Maintain a healthy detachment so that you don’t become frustrated when your good intentions are ignored—this is common. Instead, direct your frustration at the illness, not the person. It’s also important to set and maintain your schedule.

No matter how much you love someone you cannot take responsibility for his or her life. You can’t control their illness, but you can control how you respond to it.

If you find yourself, a friend or loved one in a crisis you can reach out to the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-844-493-8255 or text the word ‘TALK” to 38255. Otherwise call 911 and/or proceed to your nearest emergency room. If you are unable to locate someone in a crisis, contact the local police department for a welfare check. Additionally, if you suspect weapons may be involved please do not attempt to disarm them. Instead, call the police at (970) 349-5231 or the Mt. Crested Butte Police at (970) 349-6516.

Christine Osmundson is the interim executive director of Crested Butte Hope and a licensed mental health therapist in practice for over 20 years. She has a private practice in town. For services she may be reached at (303) 917-4207; her website is www.christineosmundsonlpc.com.

Next week we will explore risk factors, warning signs and what to do if a friend or loved one is in a mental health crisis. 

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