Last night, more than three hundred people gathered to learn about a very difficult subject. Residents from Aspen and the greater Roaring Fork Valley attended the Wheeler Opera House for a community forum on suicide. The event was prompted by a spike in suicides this winter, as well as the ongoing high rate in the Valley. Last night’s forum was hosted by the Aspen Hope Center.
There was an almost mind boggling amount of information and data presented about suicide… but it was the personal stories that really made the room go quiet. Lawrence Altman was one of a handful of locals who took the stage to tell their story.
“I care deeply about this Valley, it’s made my life fantastic. But over the beginning years of being here, through maybe 9-11 and the effects of some physical ailments that I had, I suffered from depression. And I always believed in that stigma that I had to man up, so to speak, and not get any help. ”
But, eventually Altman was able to see his situation from another perspective. He decided he would see a doctor if he had a broken arm… so he should see a professional for depression, too. And it made a huge difference for him.
“So I thought if one person heard me say this in front of... a bigger crowd than I ever imagined... that maybe they’ll get some psychiatric help if they need it. Cause there’s no shame in it.”
That message… that it’s ok to get help when you’re down, or feeling stuck… was echoed throughout the night. Local Nathan Flessner described his experience struggling with addictions, disorders, and depression.
“One day, I gave up, and I asked for help. And it’s because of that that I’m alive today. I don’t need to man up, me manning up is talking about my feelings and emotions, because that’s what makes me the man that I am. Well, I don’t have much more to say, but thank you."
A variety of professional experts were also on hand at last night’s event. Columbia University Researcher Kelly Posner is one of the nation’s foremost experts on suicide prevention. She described how suicide is a growing problem worldwide, especially in richer nations… but the problem may have improved somewhat because of the wider use and availability of antidepressants.
Posner and a panel of experts discussed how to spot when someone might be in danger of committing suicide… and how to help them The latter largely boiled down doing everything possible to connect them with a mental health provider. Resident Pat Ryan says he and his wife Kimber had that experience recently… when they were able to help a new friend get counseling.
“If you can reach one person-- I got mine. Me and my wife got our one person. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my 64 years. I got one!"
Editor's note: In full disclosure, Aspen Public Radio’s Roger Adams was moderating the panel at last night’s suicide forum at the Wheeler Opera House.