Suicide rates in Douglas County so far in 2013 are far higher than last year, a trend that pierces Coroner Lora Thomas’ professional shield.
Thomas recently spoke about the trend to members of the Douglas County Suicide Prevention Alliance.
“All of a sudden, my voice started shaking and I started getting tears in my eyes,” said Thomas. “I think I handle this job pretty well. But we lost 12 people in February (to suicide). We usually lose three or four.”
Most recently, 20-year-old Jordan Emslie of Highlands Ranch jumped to his death from an interstate overpass in Lone Tree. His March 25 suicide brings Douglas County’s 2o13 total to 20.
“For all of 2012, we investigated 44,” Thomas said. “It’s very alarming.”
Emslie is youngest to die so far this year. The people most likely to commit suicide, in both Douglas County and the nation, are middle-aged white men. Conflicted relationships, alcohol and drug abuse and mental illness are often common denominators among them.
Thomas not only sees the immediate aftermath of suicide, but its impact on those left behind.
“In their lives, they just want the pain to end,” she said. “They leave a whole other group of pain in their wake. It’s kind of like a ripple effect when you drop a little stone in the water.”
Thomas has adopted suicide prevention as her cause. Her office is part of the Douglas County Suicide Prevention Alliance, which unites members of the mental health community, law enforcement, schools and churches in a shared mission.
The key to prevention, alliance president Matt Calone said, is communication.
“Talking about suicide doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of suicide,” he said. “It actually relieves some of the anxiety. People think that generally when someone’s suicidal there’s nothing you can do to change their mind, but it’s widely said that suicide is the most preventable cause of death.”
That doesn’t mean a friend, family member or co-worker should take on the role of therapist. Calone, also director of business development at Highlands Behavioral Health System, recommends listening and then directing the person to trained experts — a therapist, doctor or hospital emergency room.
That process worked to save the life of a Douglas County high school student, Calone said. The teen confided his suicidal thoughts to his peers, who helped lead him to a school counselor.
The boy was hospitalized and treated. After treatment, he become more involved in school and gained confidence, eventually landing a leading role in a student production.
“The more we write about it and talk about it, the better,” said Barb Becker, division director for Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network. “Have conversations with your children, at work. Let people know there is hope out there. We have to be not afraid to talk about this subject. There’s shame and guilt that still surrounds it and we need to get rid of that.”
More information is available at www.dcsuicideprevention.org.
For men, the Colorado-created website www.mantherapy.org offers advice and suggestions with a masculine twist.
Help is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.