Eagle County sheriff: Suicide breaking records in Eagle County; help is available (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County sheriff: Suicide breaking records in Eagle County; help is available (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

There is a silent yet deadly epidemic enveloping our beautiful community … its name is suicide.

Eagle County is about to break its annual record of 14, having already reached that number with two months to go in the year and the critical holiday season approaching.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates overall increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, with middle-age men (45 to 64) showing the greatest rise, increasing by 43 percent during that same time period, dying at a rate three times greater than women. Suicide has surpassed heart disease, cancer and stroke as leading causes of death in that age group.

While mental health and the reasons for reactions to emotional stress differ among individuals, there are some similar threads.

When the economy hit a long-term recession, the financial structure of many families was severely disrupted to a critical point of disrepair. Homes, businesses, life savings and children's college plans were lost, and many have yet to be recovered. With men feeling the pressure of being the traditional breadwinners of the family, even if not accurate or fair, it takes a huge emotional toll on their mental health.

The reputation of "suck it up and move on" keeps many men from seeking help, yet we don't hesitate to seek medical help when we are physically injured. With new programs increasing awareness, the stigma around mental health is diminishing but not nearly quick enough.

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Some reasons include the macho effect of emotional vulnerability not being "manly"; depression over not providing their family the life they envisioned living; and the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses in a highly affluent region. Isolation can be common in mountain living. Being in a high-adventure community, injuries are common, thus the potential for opioid addiction is strong, with opioid deaths increasing 200 percent between 2000 and 2014 — some say those numbers are even greater today.

Inability, due to injury or age, to engage in outdoor activities that were a driving force for establishing a home here can increase a sense of frailty and vulnerability; due to the change of economic climate, many friends may have moved away, increasing a sense of loneliness; even the legacy effect can contribute, as men reflect on their lives and wonder what they have done to change the world.

The symptoms are as diverse as the causes: sadness not triggered by a specific event; unusual sleep pattern (too much or too little); social disengagement, no energy to do normal activities; sexual dysfunction; suddenly becoming much more quiet than normal; or suddenly becoming more argumentative, even hostile, as they resent feeling a loss of control.

We must also remain aware that sometimes a person who is suicidal will go out of their way to act "normal" and may even become overly generous, as they feel guilty for the issues above and may want to preemptively make up for what they are about to do.

Women have also seen an increase in suicide rates within that age group, jumping by more than 63 percent. While many of the reasons are similar, some are unique to gender. We will cover those concerns in a subsequent article.

What to do? When we see a loved one suffering, we want to protect and fix things, but often it is not that easy. Professional help might be required.

In Eagle County, we have a few new programs, funded by the recent marijuana tax and other initiatives. They center on a community uniting and delivering support to those in crisis.

A new program from the Hope Center and SpeakUp ReachOut, called the Gateway Network, has brought together professionals led by community members to provide support to their fellow neighbors who may be experiencing feelings of despair in an attempt to forego hospitalization. Additional information can be found at qprinstitute.com.

We have crisis response from the Hope Center and Community Paramedics, as well as Mind Springs Health, available 24/7, 365 days a year. Help is also available at the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. Please consider our staff and this entire community as your support network when you are in crisis. What we cannot do ourselves, we can arrange with those who can.

We must not lose any more of our most precious friends to this preventable tragedy.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

GET HELP NOW

Anyone in need of free, local 24/7 crisis services, for themselves or for a friend, can get help using one of the following numbers.

• 24/7 Local Crisis Hotline: 888-207-4004

• 24/7 Colorado Crisis Services statewide hotline: 844-493-TALK (8255)