DAYBREAK SPECIAL: Suicide: A Public Health Concern

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MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- This week on Daybreak, we are talking to local experts about mental health resources and how they can benefit our community.

Watch the interviews and stories above for more information.

On Monday, Anchor Sarah Schwabe talked to Jennfier Clark, the executive director of the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Mesa County. She said there are a number of resources people can reach out to if they need help or know someone who is struggling.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available by calling 800-273-8255 (TALK). Veterans can press 1, to talk to a counselor specifically trained for their needs. Colorado Crisis Services can be reached at 844-493-8255 (TALK). Locally, those who are considering suicide can call 888-207-4004 for the Mesa County Crisis Hotline.


On Tuesday, Reporter Jay Greene talked to the Grand Junction VA Hospital about new developments in their services for vets and mental health.

According to the Department of Veteran's Affairs, nearly two dozen vets take their lives every day, but the people at the Grand Junction VA are working to help. The goal is to reach as many vets as possible to make them aware of their options.

One change they've made is to their crisis line for vets. When they call 1-800-273-8255, then press option 1, they'll be connected to resources that are designed specifically for their nature and background. They can all text 838255. These are numbers that friends and family can also use to get help. Vets can also have a confidential chat at

"We know if we can support family members or community member that are supporting veterans and their crisis, then that goes a long way in helping a vet," said Sonja Encke, a psychiatric nurse, and the suicide prevention coordinator at the Grand Junction VA Hospital.

She said family and friends should remember the acronym S.A.V.E in order to a help a vet in crisis.

"S" stands for signs - listen for distress, rage or anger or if the vet is talking out self-harm or hurting others.

"A" means to ask them questions.

"V" stands for validate - the VA says to not judge and don't try to convince them that the situation is not as bad as it seems.

and "E" means to encourage and expedite treatment. Suggest resources and recommend help.

"We do safety planning and evidence-based treatment to monitor them closely," Encke said. "We know if someone has a strong thought for suicide that their risk increases over the next 90 days. So we're adding additional programming when that happens."

She said the VA is continuing to reach out into local communities to provide understanding on how to help vets manage their mental health, since some of them may never go to the VA.
On Wednesday, Jay talked to a counselor with School District 51 in Mesa County.

Kati Garner, a guidance counselor at Grand Junction High School said she is seeing an increased number of kids coming to her office. She said it's a result of counselors making sure they're offices are more open to students.

"We're allowing our kids a safe environment. We're really changing those things so it becomes a normal conversation instead of having a stigma around it," Garner said.

The district has a protocol in place to help students who are struggling with mental illness, it's called a suicide risk assessment. Counselors begin that assessment by asking questions. They said people often worry about asking someone if they're having suicidal thoughts, but it's actually the best thing someone can do.

"Research has shown that's not going to lead to a kid completing suicide, it will actually help start the dialogue for kids who need help," Garner said.

Counselors go through an evaluation with the student and get a second opinion to find out if the child is at a higher or lower risk of hurting themselves. They then can provide other resources and recommend outside counseling depending on the situation.

School District 51 said they're seeing more kids using the Safe-2-Tell app to report concerns about suicide, which can be done anonymously. In these situations, counselors said it's important to get an adult involved right away.

"We're not just schedule makers...we're really here for the mental health and well being of kids and so sometimes it can be exhausting for us, but at the same time we're so happy that they're coming into talk," Garner said. "We're saving lives and that's what we're here to do...we're okay with the exhaustion."

She said social media is playing to the concern more than ever before.

"That has to do with the fact that they're more concerned about what's going on online instead of actually making a real human connection, so we've been trying to put in some place for kids to make that connection."

The school is holding a club fair so kids can be involved in something.

"Social media can be pretty detrimental," she said.

She said to look for changing sleep patterns or changes in aggression and withdrawal.

"But it can go the other way, as well. You may have a student that wasn't very active, and they're way out there," she said. "It sounds weird but we're looking for that energy shift. What's out of their normal?"

The district has added new positions to help combat suicide, including a suicide prevention specialist is working with the district to make sure kids at all levels know about resources that are available.

Garner said she tries to make sure kids are not alone.

"We're always here to listen."

Colorado Mesa University has readily available services for students who might need help with mental health.

Jay spoke with John Marshall, CMU's vice president for student services. He said young adults are facing the same challenges of suicide that the rest of the general population is seeing, but they don't always have the tools to recognize and address in ways that adults might be able to.

Thanks to grants, Marshall said there are a number of student groups on campus that work on education and prevention, and help others realize what is going on with their mental health. They've also added an online tool students can use. It's a hub that connects them to campus and online resources.

It's known as You @ CMU.

"It allows them to become more aware of what those triggers are and what a crisis looks to respond, prevent and support one another in those circumstances," Marshall said.

Faculty, staff and students can go through training that helps them learn more about suicide and how to prevent it.

For many of us," Marshall said, "the challenge is getting past the uncomfortable feeling. It feels like a taboo subject when the reality is if you're dealing with somebody in crisis, one of the most effective things to do is actually talk about it and to have the courage and skills to engage somebody."

The school has a prevention protocol tool in place known as A.S.K. It stands for Approach, Speak up and Know your resources. It helps young men and women start the conversation about suicide if they notice another student is struggling. It guides students through warning signs like depression or withdrawal and provides them with questions to ask.

CMU said it also utilizes the national crisis line, 800-273-8255.
There's an event happening at St. Mary's Hospital on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that brings together people who have been affected by suicide.

CLICK HERE to register for the event.

We will continue to post our update this story as we continue through the series.

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