‘Safe room’ sought for Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

‘Safe room’ sought for Vail Valley

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – People who are contemplating suicide in Colorado’s Vail Valley are not, typically, criminals.

That’s why Avon Police Lt. Greg Daly cringes when he has to take potentially suicidal people to jail.

“The problem is: There’s nowhere else in the valley to take them,” he said. “There is jail or the hospital. If they don’t have room or facilities at the hospital, the only place we can bring them is the jail.”

When police respond to a 911 call about a potential suicide and the hospital is full, protocol demands police put the suicidal person in “protective custody,” Daly said.

The person has to wait in jail until a mental health professional can see that person and the professional decides whether to release the person or arrange a bed in a mental hospital, Daly said.

Problem is, suicidal people get locked up like criminals while they wait for the help they need.

“It further traumatizes those individuals,” Daly said. “It’s a weird place to be. We’re here to help you but we’re throwing you in a jail cell.”

Members of a suicide awareness group that meets in Avon recently talked about the need for a “safe room” for suicidal patients, possibly at the Vail Valley Medical Center. The safe room would be a place where police could hold suicidal people until they can get the appropriate help. It was one of many topics that came up as the group brainstormed how to prevent suicides in the Vail Valley.

Avon psychologist Henry Goetze said patients should receive more follow-up care after they start taking anti-depressants. Primary care doctors often prescribe the pills to patients who, say, complain of being sad, Goetze said. Those pills are effective in most cases, but they can have dangerous side effects.

“In a certain population, particularly adolescents, there is a small segment (for whom) there is an increase in suicidal thinking,” he said. “Why is that? We don’t know.”

Goetze calls for a combination of follow-up doctors’ visits and therapy for patients on anti-depressants.

Along with calling for more supervision, Goetze also tossed out the idea of “debriefing” suicides in the area. He suggested taking a critical look at how suicides in the valley progress, and where efforts to prevent them may have gone wrong. Debriefs would look at things like how agencies responded and whether the suicidal person sought treatment.

“I think what it would do is look at actual situations, case studies if you will, so we would know truthfully what went on,” Goetze said.

In the Yampa Valley north of Eagle County, a suicide prevention group asked doctors in Craig and Steamboat to give all patients a questionnaire, said Tom Gangel, regional director with Colorado West Mental Health.

The questionnaire contained six questions designed to reveal whether the patient might be suicidal -for example, “Are you depressed?” and “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” Gangel said. He suggested the Vail suicide prevention group ask doctors here to give out a similar questionnaire.

Education is a major priority for the suicide prevention group. Daly said members of the group had discussions with the principals of Battle Mountain High School and Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards about introducing suicide prevention programs. The group also obtained a grant for training volunteers who could talk to local students about suicide.

“Thankfully we haven’t had a high prevalence of suicide in our teen demographic,” Daly said. “But in saying that, there are a lot of attempted suicides that go unreported.”

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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