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Death outside Colorado Springs school highlights mental health crisis

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A reported death by suicide outside a Colorado Springs school is shedding light on a mental health crisis in the Pikes Peak area.

Warning, the contents of this article might be difficult for some to read. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help call or text 988 or chat online to reach the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

A community is grappling with the loss of a young man who died by suicide at a Colorado Springs elementary school. While suicide is a difficult topic to talk about, and not something normally reported by KRDO, the very public nature of this case is evidence of a mental health crisis here in El Paso County.

The Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention group reports seeing more patients that are struggling with mental health than ever before. Mental health experts in Colorado Springs want to remind those struggling that there are resources available.

"We've had a pretty steady flow, about a 15% increase overall each month," said Cassandra Walton with the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership. "In August, we served about 400 people."

According to the El Paso County Coroner's Office, there have been 131 deaths by suicide so far this year. When looking at the year to date, 2021 had 126 death by suicide this time last year.

Below is a breakdown of the numbers:

  • 2019: 180 deaths by suicide
  • 2020: 178 deaths by suicide
  • 2021: 176 deaths by suicide

The numbers, however, only tell half of the story. There are still countless others who continue to struggle with their mental health and those who think they don't need help.

Walton said she wants people to know there is help, even if it doesn't seem like it.

Promoting Prevention

While people in a crisis are encouraged to reach out for support, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline also asks the community to spread the word about actions we all can take to prevent suicide.

Through a national campaign, the Lifeline network and its partners are working to change the conversation from suicide to suicide prevention, to actions that can promote healing, help, and give hope.

Below are ways to #BeThe1To:

  • Ask
    • Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
  • Be there
    • Individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to someone who listens without judgment.
  • Keep Them Safe
    • Several studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.
  • Help Them Stay Connected
    • Studies indicate that helping someone at risk create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.
  • Follow Up
    • Studies have also shown that brief, low-cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention, especially for individuals after they have been discharged from hospitals or care services.

Learn more here.

Seeing the Signs

According to the CDC and National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), there were nearly 46,000 deaths by suicide in 2020.

To echo the sentiments of the Lifeline network's campaign, NAMI says reaching out for help or checking in with family and friends can avoid devastating outcomes.

Below are a few warning signs provided by NAMI:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and community 
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:

  • Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
  • Giving away possessions
  • Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess.

According to NAMI, there are a few ways to approach a suicide-related crisis:

  • Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
  • Remove means such as guns, knives, or stockpiled pills
  • Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?”
  • If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time
  • Express support and concern
  • Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
  • If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace
  • Be patient

Like any other health emergency, people experiencing or witnessing a mental health crisis are asked to act quickly to find help.

NAMI created Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling or in a crisis, call or text 988 or chat online to reach the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crises or emotional distress. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States.

Local resources through organizations can be found below:

National resources can be found below:

For a more comprehensive list of resources, including organizations that can help with a specific crisis, click here.

Suicide is not the answer. There is hope.

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Annabelle Childers

Annabelle is a reporter for KRDO

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