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Building Hope Jennifer McAtamney

*** Trigger Warning*** The following content includes suicide clues and warning signs, tips for having difficult conversations, and resources directly related to suicide.


Suicide Myths/Facts (QPR-Question, Persuade, Refer Institute)

  • Myth- No one can stop a suicide, it is inevitable.
  • Fact- If people in a crisis get the help they need, they will probably never be suicidal again.
  • Myth- Confronting a person about suicide will only make them angry and increase the risk of suicide.
  • Fact– Asking someone directly about suicidal intent lowers anxiety, opens up communication, and lowers the risk of an impulsive act.
  • Myth- Suicidal people keep their plans to themselves.
  • Fact- Most suicidal people communicate their intent sometime during the week preceding their attempt.
  • Myth- Once a person decides to attempt suicide, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.
  • Fact- Suicide is the most preventable kind of death, and almost any positive action may save a life.

Sadly, statistics show the suicide rate in Summit County is over the national average and mental-health issues abound. According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Summit County’s suicide rate between 2004 and 2022 was 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people, above the national rate of 14.5. Evidence shows that many suicide attempts occur with little advance planning, during a short-term crisis. Putting time and space between a suicidal person and lethal means (such as medications, firearms, knives, etc.) can save a life. If a person is unable to find the means (lethal items used to take one’s life) within 20 minutes, they are 75% less likely to attempt suicide.

While not all suicides are preventable, most are. Here at Building Hope we strive to help our community reach a point where anyone contemplating suicide has a place to go and knows how to get help. We believe we can help everyone in need. Improving our system is a matter of life and death for many individuals. This goal is woven into everything we do. In honor of Suicide Prevention Month in September, we hope to help everyone in our community be more aware and capable of recognizing clues and warning signs, prepare for hard and vital conversations, and feel confident in the resources and options available here in Summit County.


Building Hope Team

According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, clues and warning signs of suicidal ideation can be broken down by talk, behavior, and mood. Remember, the more clues and signs you observe, the higher the imminent risk.

  • If a person talks about:
    • Killing themselves
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Having no reason to live
    • Being a burden to others
    • Feeling trapped
    • Voicing unbearable pain
  • Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change (death of a loved one, loss of a job or housing, breakup or loss of relationship, diagnosis of a terminal illness or disease):
    • Increased use of alcohol or drugs (or relapse after recovery)
    • Searching online for methods to end life or acquiring means like a gun or pills
    • Withdrawing from activities or isolating from friends and family
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
    • Getting affairs in order or giving away prized possessions
    • Unexplained anger, aggression, or irritability
  • People who are considering suicide display one or more of the following moods:
    • Relief or sudden improvement in mood
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Loss of interest
    • Irritability
    • Humiliation or shame
    • Agitation or anger

The QPR Institute (Question, Refer, Persuade) reiterates the importance of not only recognizing these types of clues and warning signs, but also being observant and aware of quick and drastic changes of any kind in the people in your life. You know the behaviors, habits, and demeanors of your family, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors. If you notice a sudden change- don’t hesitate- it is time to check in with them.

Shawn and Jen McAtamney

Tips for conversations about suicide (QPR Institute):

  • Find a safe space and time to speak freely in a non-judgmental way.
  • If the person is reluctant, be persistent and continue to check in.
  • Listen and avoid judgmental terms (“You’re not going to do anything stupid, right?”).
  • Validation and empathy go a long way (“Thanks for sharing with me, I’m sorry you feel this way”).
  • Set the stage with less direct questions and check-ins (“I haven’t seen you at yoga lately, is everything OK?), with eventual goal to be direct questions (“Are you thinking about suicide or ending your life?”).
  • There may not be the perfect way to ask the question, but it’s better than not asking.
  • If you aren’t comfortable having the conversation or have a complicated relationship with the person- find someone who can. Reach out to this person’s support system and voice concerns.

Now that you have asked the difficult questions, your goal is to persuade them to stay alive. According to the QPR institute:

  • Listen to the problem and give them your full attention.
  • Remember suicide is not the problem, only the solution to a perceived insoluble problem.
  • Offer hope in any form.
  • Ask: “Will you go with me to get help?” or “What can we do to keep you safe for now?”

The best referral involves being proactive and taking action with or for the suicidal person. Evaluate the severity and safety risk of the suicidal ideation.

  • For immediate danger or risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 and ask for the SMART team.
  • For someone experiencing suicidal ideation, thoughts, or emotional distress in a non-emergency situation call CO Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255. Trained professionals will help determine the risk and next steps.  Or call the local non-emergent Dispatch line at 970-668-8600.
  • Next-best scenario: offer to help make appointments with a therapist, walk a friend to the school counselor, or reach out to Building Hope for assistance.
  • Remember to follow-up, continue to check in and show you care. If possible offer to transport or attend appointments together.

It’s no secret that these scenarios and conversations are challenging. While it’s important to not shy away from reaching out, it’s also important to not hold onto to any guilt or regret if things don’t go smoothly or you feel like you have upset the person you are concerned about. The more we open up and talk freely about these feelings and situations, the more we encourage the community to commit to moving forward together. We are all in this together, remember to:

  1. Be observant and aware of sudden changes in the behaviors of your loved ones. Look for clues and warning signs.

2. Be willing to have difficult conversations, without hesitation, in a safe, non-judgmental space. Come prepared with resources and be ready to assist your loved one in finding the help they need.

3. Take the extra initiative to safely store and reduce quick access to means like medication (secure storage with lock), firearms (in-home long-term storage include locks, safes, and monitors with ammunition stored separately, short-term out-of-home voluntary storage available through dispatch at 970-668-8600 during crisis stage, check out Colorado Gun Storage Map for more information), knives (duct tape or remove to create delay in access) and ropes (ensure rope cutters are close by) if your loved one is in a crisis. Displaying pictures of loved ones close by can also decrease the risk of suicide. Putting time and space between a person experiencing suicidal thoughts and lethal means can offer extra time and space to work through those difficult emotions.

4. Remember that everyone’s mental health wellness is a work in progress, not perfection. Try to focus on a healthy balance and positive routines with personalized coping mechanisms.

Many attempts occur with little advance planning during a short-term crisis. People that struggle with their mental health find it very hard to cope with these intense moments and they often lead to suicide that had little advanced planning. Putting time and space between a person experiencing suicidal thoughts and lethal means can save their life. In overwhelming moments, we often just need some time to digest our emotions and with time, we calm down. Being observant and asking the right questions, persuading and providing hope while referring your loved one to the right resources can absolutely help save a life.

Article by Alyse Piburn, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at alyse@buildinghopesummit.org.
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