Group focuses on postvention efforts to address suicide

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While suicide prevention is important, so is what happens after people attempt to harm themselves.

To that end, a Grand Junction organization focuses on postvention.

Support from businesses and individuals help sustain  advocacy, education and outreach efforts, said Erica Kitzman, secretary and treasurer of the Postvention Alliance. “They are helping us do things that are life saving.”

Kitzman also serves as a Western Slope field advocate for the Colorado chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Postvention involves activities to care for those who’ve attempted to harm themselves,  the families and friends of attempt survivors and those left behind by suicide losses, Kitzman said.

Although suicide is associated with mental illness, medical conditions and stressful events can also trigger crises, she said. That includes thyroid and cardiac diseases, urinary tract infections and even the flu. That also includes such  events as job loss, divorce and child custody disputes.

Risk increases after people have attempted to harm themselves. The risk also can increase for the families and friends of those who’ve attempted to harm themselves as well as those left behind after a suicide, she said.

According to information reported by Mesa County Public Health, 46 deaths were attributed to suicide in the county in 2019. Between 2015 and 2019, 232 suicide deaths were reported. The rate of suicide deaths in Mesa County remains higher than state and national rates.

An estimated 57 percent of those who died by suicide in Mesa County had previously attempted to harm themselves. The county cited nine attempts for every suicide death. A total of 52 percent had contact with primary and behavioral health care providers or law enforcement within the previous 90 days.

Kitzman said the Postvention Alliance bases its efforts on the work of Edwin S. Shneidman. The psychologist researched suicide and advocated for efforts to address the needs of those who survived attempts to harm themselves. 

It’s a matter of targeting care to populations with known risks, she said. Followup care following an emergency room visit, for example, can reduce risk by 40 percent.

Protective factors include family support and mentorships and friendships, she said.

Simple acts of kindness can make a difference, she said. That includes sending a card or making soup for someone going through difficult circumstances.

Some people who’ve attempted suicide and survived said they wouldn’t have tried to harm themselves if even one person would have said hello to them that day, Kitzman said. “That was their bar for staying alive.”

The Postvention Alliance provides education and support workshops for people affected by suicide. The group also provides information and resources on its website at https://www.postvention.org.

In addition, the group is involved in various events, including the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day scheduled for Nov. 22.

While suicide prevention is important, Kitzman said, so is what happens after people attempt to harm themselves.