From the editor: Navigating life after suicide
“I’m gonna go for a drive,” he said before hanging up the phone. Those were the last words he would speak to anyone, other than a few goodbye messages and a text to 911 detailing where to find his body.
The silence on the line was followed by hours of frantic phone calls to police, parents and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, where I sat on hold for minute after excruciating minute. After a sleepless night, the knock on my front door the next morning was all the confirmation I needed. Jonny was dead.
When I called him in the early hours on New Year’s Day, he was despondent and said he could not see a way forward. After hanging up on me, he wrote a note to his parents, took his grandfather’s gun, drove to a field near his house and shot himself.
I recently read a quote from a first responder who said, “It’s never an easy thing to have an opportunity to save someone’s life and then not be able to do it.”
Johnny was my brother’s best friend, and in some ways, failing to save Johnny’s life feels like failing to save my brother’s life, which has changed forever.
My life has changed forever, too, but in some ways for the better. The sudden and devastating loss has made me more empathetic toward others who are desperately trying to survive the worst times in their lives.
And it encouraged me to get involved with suicide prevention efforts in Steamboat Springs, where I lived for the past 13 years.
I’ve sat through dayslong classes on suicide prevention. I’ve talked and texted with friends and co-workers whose lives were in danger. I’ve volunteered to sit in the ER with strangers who were in crisis. And I’ve searched for and recovered the bodies of people who ended their lives.
• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911
Many of those moments are deeply personal to me, but I hope sharing them will help to increase awareness about the problem of suicide, particularly by firearms, in the mountain west.
In 2017, Colorado had the 10th highest suicide rate in the country, and about half of the deaths were by firearms, according to the University of Colorado. When youths die by firearm suicide, more than 80% use a gun belonging to a family member.
Deaths by suicide are almost always attributable to a treatable mental illness.
Here in Summit County, Building Hope is working to reduce stigma around mental illness, which nearly half of adults will experience in their lifetimes, according to Mental Health First Aid.
We can all do our part to prevent suicide, and it starts with education. If you’d like to learn about suicide warning signs or how to talk with someone who is thinking about suicide, consider taking one of Building Hope’s free classes next week:
- Tuesday, Sept. 17: QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention training from 6-8 p.m. in Frisco.
- Friday, Sept. 20: Mental Health First Aid training from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Silverthorne.
Both classes teach participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses while QPR deals specifically with suicide.
Register for either class at BuildingHopeSummit.org/events.
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