Eagle County struggles with record number of suicide deaths in 2018
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EAGLE COUNTY — Sixteen Eagle County residents have died by suicide to date in 2018 — nine men and seven women.
To be more descriptive, so far this year the community has lost 16 friends, co-workers and neighbors. Local families have lost nine sons, brothers or husbands and seven daughters, sisters and wives.
“We are all devastated,” said Eagle County Public Health Director Chris Lindley. “Every loss is devastating to all of us. We all take it personally.”
It’s been an exceptionally tough year locally for mental health professionals who deal with suicide deaths. The highest previous number of Eagle County deaths by suicide in a single year was 14.
This year’s statistics underscores the need for improved mental health resources, but Lindley noted there aren’t quick fixes to the current, broken system.
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“We are moving as quickly as we can on a community mental health system. If there was a solution out there that was shown to be effective, we would all be doing it,” he said.
Lindley noted that while the local suicide deaths figure is at its highest mark ever, the community’s commitment to address mental health needs is also at its peak.
Eagle County efforts
There are three distinct groups working on mental health needs in Eagle County.
The Total Health Alliance is open to anyone and everyone. The group hosts public meetings that include information sharing and discussions. The sessions regularly attract between 60 to 100 participants.
Eagle County also has its own Mental Health Advisory Committee — a 10-person group that advises the county commissioners about funding priorities for money generated from the local marijuana tax.
Finally, there is a group of local business and community leaders looking at mental health needs for workers and residents. Lindley said the group is brand new, but it has set its mission: To create a community system of services and prevention that saves lives, creates hope and changes behavioral outcomes in our county.
There is crossover in efforts and representation in these groups, particularly among the frontline entities, Lindley noted. In particular, Lindley said that Vail Health has been a leader in the effort. The mental health work also has support from local law enforcement agencies and entities that provide services including Mind Springs Health, Mountain Family Health, Hope Center Eagle River Valley, Eagle River Youth Coalition and Speak Up Reach Out.
“Every suicide is an awful reminder of how important our work is,” Lindley said.
And, unfortunately, the nature of the effort records losses but not success.
“We won’t know how many lives we have saved,” he said.
Holiday season concerns
All of the individuals and entities involved in county’s mental health effort will be on high alert as the holiday season approaches, Lindley said.
“The holidays are traditionally a time when we see our highest number of deaths by suicide. That’s a national statistic,” Lindley said. “The holidays are a very hard time for folks.”
He urged all community members to help care for one another this holiday season. If a co-worker or acquaintance seems withdrawn or upset, talk to him or her. If a friend or family member is struggling, don’t hesitate to call a hotline number.
“Keep an eye on everyone. That’s what the holiday season should be about — helping each other rather than avoiding each another,” Lindley said.