COLORADO SPRINGS. In response to the growing number of suicides in El Paso County — particularly among teens and young adults — St. Patrick Parish recently hosted a suicide prevention workshop that was attended by many parishioners.
“We haven’t formed a specific ministry for suicide prevention yet, but it is a very passionate subject for Father Larry (Solan, pastor). The youth group has been talking about it, and we have had some funerals at the parish of people who have committed suicide,” said Mary Ann Lamecker, assistant to the pastor.
Janet Karnes gave the workshop at St. Patrick on Feb. 8. Karnes, the executive director of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention for over seven years, is a Master ASIST trainer (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and has taught thousands of people in El Paso County about suicide prevention. Most trainings last about 90 minutes.
In an interview with the Herald, Karnes was asked to name the most important steps people can take to prevent suicides.
“The most important thing someone can do is take suicidal talk seriously and not think the person is just trying to get attention. Take all talk of suicide seriously,” Karnes said. “Secondly, learn what to look for and how to talk to someone about suicide. Learn who and how to get help for someone (community resources). Lastly, offer hope in any form. People who are suicidal feel hopeless and alone.”
Some warning signs of suicide are indirect and direct verbal clues — if a person says “you would be better off without me,” or, “if (such and such) doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”
Behavioral clues could be co-occurring depression, moodiness, or hopelessness. Previous suicide attempts or drug and alcohol abuse are risk factors. Other triggers could be a loss, such as being fired or expelled from school, or the diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness. If a person experiences feelings of worthlessness, guilt, loneliness, sadness or hopelessness — these could be signals to get help.
Asked about the suicide rate in El Paso County, Karnes said that “suicide is on the rise worldwide. To get a true picture of suicide, one needs to look at it over a five- or ten-year span.”
In El Paso County, the numbers were down in 2014 and then rose in 2015 and 2016, as did the population, Karnes said. To take into account rises in population, suicide needs to be looked at by rates — how many deaths per 100,000 people.
“Rates permit one to compare us to any area in the nation,” Karnes said. “So for example, the rate for El Paso County was 28 for several years, then went to 23 and in 2015 it was 25. So our rate is down but suicides among teens doubled from 2014 to 2015. And there have never been so many young teens dying in EL Paso County like there have been in 2016 and 2017.”
In 2015, 169 people died by suicide in EL Paso County. “The vast majority were middle-aged males (35-64),” Karnes said. “In 2015, the number of suicides among 19-25 year olds rose to high numbers too.”
Lamecker said that at St. Patrick Parish, suicide prevention is a big concern of the Stephen Ministry. Stephen ministers are taught to recognize signs of suicidal behavior in people and help them connect with appropriate resources.
“We want our parishioners to know we care. Call us. We will help,” she said.
For more information, call the parish at 719-598-3595, Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention hotline at 844-493-TALK (8255), or www.pikespeaksuicideprevention.org.