skinner

It’s officially Suicide Prevention Month. If you live long enough, every month is Suicide Prevention Month.

I volunteered to DJ at the inaugural Suicide Awareness Hike in Grand County last weekend. Music is a really important part of people’s lives, especially survivors. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be a really good event. People brought their music requests. One woman requested Joni Mitchell, and we both stood there with tears welling. Without knowing the details I could tell that Joni meant a lot to her and her loved one.

Everyone at that event had at least one thing in common. I was amazed at the strength of some people — they were carrying on but still carrying grief.

What surprised me was how many people were there and how much they cared about the missing. Some who contemplate taking their own life do so thinking that the world would be a better place without them. There are a lot of folks that would beg to differ. They were all in one place.

Suicide is not predictable. A recent article in Harper’s Magazine reviewed the science of predicting who is going to go through with it. There are certain indices that can be highlighted, but they are broad strokes.

“Young people with tattoos have been found more likely to die by suicide, as have users of heroin or Ambien, prison inmates and farmers. Studies have shown that one’s propensity for suicidal thinking can be increased by sexual obsession or by firefighting,” the article details. “Patients who have undergone multiple surgeries are at a greater risk for suicide, but then so are the surgeons themselves, particularly if they are female.”

Who knew?

The article provides some historical context which has led to the current thinking that the most reliable resource for predicting suicidal behavior comes from parsing a person's “digital life data.” Every post. Every phone call. Every text. Every Zoom call. Every website. Every web search. Put the data through the machine, and artificial intelligence will spit out an accurate look of where a person's head is at.

Grief. Horror. Loneliness. Despair. Those are tough nuts to crack when someone is isolated. They can lead to suicidal ideation.

I’ve been up. I’ve been down. Up is better.

Being on the living side of suicide is challenging. Having two friends go down in a murder-suicide last year left me despondent and paralyzed by grief. It was already a challenging time and that didn't help. Being around other survivors last weekend somehow helped me with the ongoing healing from all of life’s wounds.

Playing DJ was not much to offer but I wanted to volunteer, and it turned out that many people had a tune they wanted to hear … to remind them of their lost loved one. Songs are like timestamps that can bring us back to the days in our lives when they were in heavy rotation. Smells offer the same kind of melancholy memories.

Pitkin and Garfield counties have a high suicide rate; Colorado is sixth in the nation. Happily, suicides are down this year.

Of course there are amazing experts at practically everything on Facebook, but there are other (better) places to look for help. There are resources beyond calling a helpline. The Aspen Hope Center and the Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition are offering local QPR (question, persuade, refer) training this month for regular folks wanting to help someone in crisis. Visit the Aspen Hope Center website for details.

Aspen Strong’s HIKE, HOPE HEAL is Saturday, Sept. 25, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Mollie Gibson Park in Aspen. It kind of sounds like a party with a group hike, live music, vendors, drinks and yes, prize giveaways.

A social media post about the event reads, “ISO: A person that should never be forgotten. We want to honor those that suffered or lost their life due to a mental health condition. If you have a family member, or a friend, that you would like to be honored and not forgotten, please reach out to us to submit a quote, something that you remember them by, a photo or anything of your choosing that we will line our walk up Smuggler with to never forget what they gave to us and so they will never be forgotten.”

Sweet. I attended a memorial last Saturday. There was a big turnout, and it made me wonder if Connie Clayton ever knew how many people she touched and how many people loved her.

Steve Skinner thinks we should have memorials when people are still alive. Reach him at moogzuki@gmail.com.