Help a Friend, Stop Suicide

Sep 26, 2013

Suicide is a real problem in the Roaring Fork Valley… this year nine people have died by suicide, normally a year’s total. Statewide, more than a thousand people died by suicide in 2012. An Aspen organization is trying to tackle the problem in the Roaring Fork Valley. One of their methods is training locals to act when friends or family might be at risk…. The Hope Center held a training in Aspen on Tuesday, September 24th.

Sandy Iglehart: “So tonight you’re gonna learn how to possibly help someone that’s in crisis.”

Reporter: Sandy Iglehart welcomes about a dozen women seated in a half circle. They’re gathered in the Pitkin County Library, and most are very focused...this doesn’t feel like just another educational seminar. Iglehart helped start the Hope Center after her daughter died by suicide four years ago. Tonight, she asks how many people in the room have been affected by suicide. Several raise their hands. Then Hope Center Program Director Michelle Muething starts the training.

Michelle Muething: “Fifty percent of people who die by suicide have never seen a mental health practitioner. So that’s why you are so important tonight. The people that know these individuals the best are their friends, their families, their coworkers, their bank tellers, instructors, their ski instructors so that’s who we train.”

Credit Aspen Hope Center

Reporter: And it’s a good idea for them to keep an eye out for signs of depression in friends and family.

Michelle Muething: “The biggest thing is you want to look at an opposite behavior than that you’ve seen before, you want to look for a change. If this is someone who always drinks a glass of wine a night, and now they’re drinking a bottle.  Or people who don’t drink at all, and now they’re drinking, people that don’t take risks, now they’re taking risks. People that don’t get emotional, and now they’re crying at the drop of the hat.”

Reporter: An example of risk-taking could mean suddenly wanting to backcountry ski without protecting against avalanches. That and any of those could signal a friend or loved one is depressed. Here’s the thing: even if they do see a counselor or psychiatrist, a depressed person is statistically unlikely to tell that professional if they’re thinking about suicide. So they probably won’t come out and tell a friend or neighbor, either. But, Muething says, they do usually show red flags.

Michelle Muething: “My family would be better off without me. We hear that a lot.”

Trainee: “Giving away like personal items?”

Michelle Muething: “Yes, giving away personal items.”

Sandy Iglehart: “Very good.”

Trainee: “They stop enjoying what they used to enjoy.”

Michelle: “Yes, they stop doing what they used to do.”

Trainee: “They talk about suicide.”

Michelle: “They talk about suicide, or they talk about death in general.”

Reporter: During the hour long training, the audience asked specific, and serious, questions. What should I do if the man I’m with is abusive, but he says he’ll kill himself if I leave? What do I say if a teenager threatens to commit suicide? In all of these cases,

Muething says the next step is something called QPR. It’s like an emotional CPR. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer. It boils down to talking with your friend or loved one about how they’re feeling.

Michelle Muething: “So what do you do, what are some things you can say if you see all those warning flags? Are you ok? That’s a great opening sentence.”

Reporter:  Then, she says, even though it might feel weird or intrusive, ask them if they’re thinking about suicide. Take the time to talk with them about how they’re feeling… and call a professional—whether it’s the police, 911, or the Hope Center. The main goal is to make sure, somehow, that person will see a mental health professional… and dialing one of those agencies will help make that happen. The good news is, says Muething, there’s a glimmer of hope.

Michelle Muething: “Someone who’s suicidal may never ever be suicidal again. They learn coping skills, they learn how to reach out and get support systems in place, they learn how to find that safety net that they need.”

Reporter: They just might first need a helping hand from someone close to them. So far, more than sixty people have recovered from suicidal thoughts after getting help through the Aspen Hope Center. 

The Aspen Hope Center crisis “hopeline” is 970-925-5858 and it’s staffed seven days a week, twenty four hours a day.