Supporting veterans during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

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EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — One is too many when it comes to suicide. September is suicide prevention awareness month.

More people in El Paso County die by suicide than from homicide and vehicle accidents combined, according to The Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County. In 2020, there were 178 deaths by suicide county-wide and 97 used a gun, according to Community Health Partnership. Of the 15 teens under the age of 18 who died by suicide, 8 used a firearm.

“Our military members may come back different, and he certainly did,” Kristen Christy said. “We found out later that in second in command of the airport he was in charge of the human remains as well. He was in charge of making sure that those flag-draped coffins got a dignified and respectful transport home to their loved ones.”

Air Force Lt Col. Don Christy served in Iraq in 2004. Don would mention the good times, and his family wasn’t aware of how much his time overseas was weighing him down. Four years later, his wife Kristen learned Don took his own life.

“I will never ever forget that doorbell ring,” Christy added. “In fact today, I have a different ring on my doorbell. It still triggers 13 years later.”

“When people do attempt or complete dying by suicide… they can have great days, and all of a sudden they make that choice and it is a very fast decision,” Director of Behavior Health at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center Kirsten Belaire said. “It is one of the reasons why the suicide rates in our military and veteran community are higher, not because of the attempts are more but because the means are more lethal.”

It’s a problem that has ramped up during the pandemic and the end of the war in Afghanistan.

“The results weren’t what they were hoping for or what they had expected to happen with the sacrifices they made themselves and their families can be overwhelming and frustrating so we are definitely starting to see people who are coming in and really starting to unpack and explore some of that because that is two very big events that could be compounding making people who might have not been at risk outside of those events, potentially more at risk,” Belaire explained.

Colorado’s rate of veteran suicide is significantly higher than the national average and the national veteran suicide rate, according to the VA. Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law that would create a pilot Veteran Suicide Prevention Program. It would help increase access to mental health care for those who served our country. The program will be established in El Paso County, the region with the highest population of veterans.

“There is hope in the community, there is hope in resources. As a military spouse, I talk in acronyms. HOPE stands for Hold On Pain Eases– it doesn’t end, it eases,” Christy added. “It also stands for Help One Person Every Day.”

She encourages people who see another person in crisis to ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

“It shows them that you care, that you see them as an individual. You see their hurt, you see their pain, you see the battle that they are waging on this emotional battlefield, and it is coming together,” Christy said. “We are stronger together; we aren’t made to do life alone.”

Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center said they are seeing more people reach out for mental health services, because some of the stigmas are being reduced. The center offers individual, couple and family therapy; child and youth therapy; group therapy and alternative therapy all at low or no cost. For veterans, they will serve them regardless of era of service, discharge status, or length of service.

To call Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center during business hours call 719-772-7000.

VETERAN CRISIS LINE: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for immediate assistance.

VETS4WARRIORS: 855-838-8255

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255

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