By Mary Shinn, Durango Herald
Fort Lewis College employees may receive training next year in how to intervene with someone who is experiencing a suicidal crisis.
FLC staff and faculty plan to work with a local nonprofit to train full-time and permanent employees in suicide intervention starting this spring, said Kendra Gallegos Reichle, coordinator of student wellness initiatives. The ambitious goal to train FLC staff is dependent on funding and administrative approval, she said.
The work is aimed at addressing La Plata County’s high rate of suicide. Not everyone feels comfortable going to counseling, but people may confide in a teacher, friend or others in their social circle, she said.
“We want more of those people in those circles to be trained,” Gallegos Reichle said. “One of our deepest human needs is a sense of belonging, and this allows for people to come together as a community of survivors to find comfort and share stories and move toward healing and hope.”
Since 2012, six people in their early 20s have died by suicide in La Plata County, according to data from the Coroner’s Office. Emily Dee, 22, Giancarlo Vigil, 23, and Calvin Maupin-Rickman, 23, attended FLC. La Plata County’s suicide rate was 34 deaths per 100,000 people last year, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. The average suicide rate nationwide is about 13 deaths per 100,000, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
FLC employees may receive the Question Persuade Refer training, which teaches participants to recognize statements and behaviors that some people say or exhibit when they are feeling suicidal. For example, those at risk of suicide may allude to their feelings by saying: “Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around,” according to the QPR Institute.
Trainees are also taught to take three steps laid out in the name of the program. They learn how to question suicidal people about their feelings, persuade them to seek professional help and refer them to local providers.
Gallegos Reichle received free QPR materials from the state Office of Suicide Prevention that will allow her to give QPR trainings, she said.
The Southern Colorado Community Action Agency, formerly known as the Southern Ute Community Action Programs, plans to help train employees. Online QPR trainings may offer another option for staff members, she said.
The staff could receive different forms of suicide prevention training as well, she said.
Members of the group organizing the trainings are pursuing grant funding to help with the effort, Gallegos Reichle said.
This semester, several groups focused on health and wellness have held suicide-intervention trainings, she said.
FLC surveys show anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts rising among students since 2010. Groups on campus are starting to notice those feelings among students, Gallegos Reichle said.
“It’s nice to hear people being more open about it,” she said.
About 250 students attended the Fresh Check Day, an event focused on mental wellness and suicide prevention in October, she said.
During the event, students were encouraged to write something they love about themselves on a sticky note and add it to a board. Students also have been encouraged to take words of affirmation from the board, Gallegos Reichle said.
The board was left in the lobby of the FLC Student Union for a month, where students have continued to take and add notes, she said.
“I think simple words mean more than we can even realize,” Gallegos Reichle said.