Suicide: Our “Paradise Paradox” Part II

Part II: Paradise comes at a price

A three part series

Providing support to those struggling with depression

People visiting Crested Butte often say, “Wow, this place is paradise! I can’t imagine anyone having problems.” Unfortunately we are not a problem-free community. As rents continue to rise, so does the cost of living and the disparity of wealth. It’s not hard to understand why people feel increased financial pressure to afford staying in their homes and keep their quality of life.

Then, there’s the added pressure we put on ourselves to feel grateful and happy. When you mix in substance abuse, relationships ending or the disruption of seasonal employment, it can all seem unbearable, which is when people are more apt to act on their “suicidal ideations.”

Living at high altitude affects brain chemistry by decreasing serotonin levels while creating surges of dopamine. With surges of dopamine in the brain, risk-taking behaviors increase. According to a study by professor of psychiatry Perry Renshaw, M.D. at the University of Utah in 2014, “At altitude, you get a marked reduction in serotonin levels, which is associated with mood and anxiety disorders.” He estimated that in ‘Salt Lake City, there is a 30 percent to 40 percent higher suicide rate just based on altitude than is the case for living at sea level.”

Having extra dopamine surges allows us to feel more comfortable taking risks and demonstrating increased fearlessness. This is especially true for our thrill-seeking neighbors and friends. Our community is packed with people who moved here to enjoy extreme outdoor activities. Consequently, we are more apt to make a serious suicide attempt than folks living in lower altitudes.

For suicide survivors, the loss of a loved one is the beginning of endless questions including, “What could I have done to prevent this?” or, “I feel so angry and confused as to why this happened.” Moreover, “I didn’t see this coming” and “I was trying to get this person help and they refused it.” Remember what we said in our first article. 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.

This article is our opportunity as a community to learn what we can do to help someone struggling with suicidal ideation.

Risk factors that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt or die by suicide are:

—Pre-existing mental disorder such as mood and anxiety disorders

—Alcohol and substance use disorders

—Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies

—History of trauma/abuse

—Major physical illness

—Previous suicide attempt

—Family history of suicide

—Job or financial loss

—Loss of relationships

—Easy access to lethal means

—Sense of isolation

—Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via media)

Warning signs that may help determine if someone you care about is at risk for suicide include:

—Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves

—Talking about feelings of hopelessness

—Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

—Talking about being a burden to others

—Increasing use of alcohol or drugs;

—Behaving recklessly

—Sleeping too little or too much

—Withdrawing and isolating themselves from others

—Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

—Extreme mood swings

What to do if someone is feeling suicidal:

—When your friend or loved one is feeling suicidal with an active plan to commit suicide, drive them to your local hospital, call 911 and/or call the crisis number with them.

—Contact the 24-hour National Suicide Hotline at 1-844-493-8255. They will be able to triage the situation if the person in a crisis is a danger to themselves or others. If so, they will be able to coordinate a higher level of care, i.e. crisis walk-in center in Montrose, hospital, police, etc.

—Text the word TALK to 38255, a 24-hour crisis TEXT line

—Call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency room:

Gunnison Valley Hospital, Gunnison, Colo.

Delta County Memorial Hospital, Delta, Colo.

Montrose Memorial Hospital, Montrose, Colo.

—Call the local police department, especially if you suspect there are weapons involved. Additionally, the police are trained and able to provide a welfare check if you are not able to locate them or have not heard from them. They can also transport your person to the local hospital for a mental health evaluation if they are at risk.

—Contact the Center for Mental Health 24-hour crisis line at (970) 252-6220. They will arrange for an assessment if the person is of imminent risk to themselves or someone else.

—Contact the newly opened (as of March 29) 24-hour walk mental health crisis center in Montrose at (970) 252-3200.

One of the more important things you can do to protect your own mental health is to not riddle yourself with “what if’s.” I often times hear, “I don’t want them to get mad at me for calling the police,” “I don’t want to over-react,” or “They will stop talking to me if I intervene.” When someone is actively suicidal they are unable to think clearly and incapable of making sound decisions. Putting your loved one in the hands of a trained professional is the best way to get them help and relieve you from the pressure of feeling responsible for their safety.

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 the person. Instead, call the police at (970) 349-5231 or the Mt. Crested Butte Police at (970) 349-6516.

Next week we will explore the importance of following up with someone who has made an attempt, was hospitalized or has witnessed or lost a person to suicide.

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

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