To date in 2013, Douglas County has lost no teens to suicide, according to Coroner Lora Thomas. It’s cause for optimism following seven recorded teen suicides in 2012, and six in 2011.
Conversely, an Aug. 19 press release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showed Colorado’s 2012 suicide rate was its highest ever.
The change in Douglas County is “great news,” said Out of the Darkness Community Walk co-chair Sheri Cole, who lost her son David to suicide in 2009. “I’d like to think the combined efforts of many organizations in the county have had an impact on that. I have cautious optimism.
“But true success in my eyes would be that we don’t need to have the walk,” said the director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Colorado. “Unfortunately, in our society, it’s in the news almost daily. It needs more time, attention, research and support.”
The fourth south-metro walk is planned from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 7 at Highlands Ranch High School. The free event includes resource fair, speeches from local and national officials, food carts and the three-mile walk.
To date, the organization already has raised a third of its $140,000 goal for the 2013 event. More than 500 people have signed up to walk, almost half of the 12,000 who walked it in 2012.
That early and eager response is indicative not just of the walk’s success, but the organization’s.
In Colorado, AFSP funding enables many high schools to provide the “More than Sad: Teen Depression” suicide awareness training as well as “Sources of Strength,” a peer leader suicide awareness training, and community programs.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Education and Safety in Schools (YESS) also includes a segment on suicide awareness. The Douglas County Suicide Prevention Alliance also hosts trainings and awareness programs. Thomas believes the programs are working.
“Prevention is something you can’t really measure,” Thomas said. “You can count the people you’ve lost. But there’s no way to count the people you haven’t lost.”
The programs could be factors in the fact that no Douglas County teens have died by suicide so far this year. “The first two years I was here in office, we had a lot of teenagers (die by suicide),” Thomas said. “That’s why this year I just kept holding my breath. We hope the trend continues through the rest of the year.”
Cole also sees hope in scientific findings.
“Research is showing suicide is a disease of the brain,” she said. “More people are willing now to see this as an illness. The brain is a very complex thing and sometimes we don’t know what’s going on up there from a biochemical perspective.”
Such news, and the work she does to help stem the disease of suicide, is also healing, Cole said.
“It might sound a little strange, but it gives you a place to put it,” she said. “I would rather try to move forward than to be stuck. It never ceases to amaze me how many people I’ve met through tragedy that also are willing to open their hearts, share their stories and do thing to make a difference, so hopefully other families don’t have to be in these shoes.”