SUE KLEBOLD TALKS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold, said there were no signs that her youngest son was planning what eventually transpired on April 20, 1999, before taking his own life.
“From what I could see, he was doing OK,” she said.
She explained how a month before the incident, Dylan visited the University of Arizona, the school he planned to attend, with his family and was excited to get the largest freshman dorm room possible. Three nights before he and friend Eric Harris murdered 13 people and wounded 24 others before the pair died by suicide, Dylan attended the school’s prom, which he said was “the best time of my life,” according to his mother. That was all a “smokescreen,” Klebold said.
“Since then, it has been my own journey to help me understand his death,” she said.
Klebold, author of the 2016 book “A Mother’s Reckoning” about the incident, was the keynote speaker Wednesday night during a Tri-County Health Network-organized event regarding mental health awareness, intervention and prevention at the Palm Theatre.
The 69-year-old school counselor explained only after the incident did she find notes that Dylan wrote two years prior to the shooting detailing his “agony” and suicidal thoughts.
“About half of us know that our loved ones are struggling,” she said.
Colorado has the ninth highest suicide rate in the country at 20.5 people per 100,000 residents, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Suicide also is the leading causes of death in Colorado for ages 10-24, according to the most recent statistics. In 2017, San Miguel, Montrose and Ouray counties all had an identical suicide rate of 26.6, the numbers show.
Sarah Davidon, Mental Health Colorado research director, called mental wellness “a community issue,” adding that one in five adolescents experience a mental health crisis, typically before age 14.
“We need to do better,” she said during Wednesday’s event. “ … Schools can’t do anything without the communities in which they are.”
She explained her life has been “touched by suicide” four times, and mental health and suicide are usually “intimately connected.”
It’s important, though, she added, to realize that mental health, mental illness and violence aren’t interconnected.
“Mental health is about relationships and resilience,” she said.
How to differentiate between mental wellness and mental illness is part of Mental Health First Aid Colorado’s mission, including classes throughout the state. To learn more, visit mhfaco.org. Mental Health Colorado also offers a School Mental Health Toolkit, which Davidon said will be available in every district in the state. A printable version can be found online at mentalhealthcolorado.orgunder the Resources tab.
The Attorney General’s Office recently announced a $2.8 million grant to support Partners for Children’s Mental Health, a Children’s Hospital Colorado program, in an effort to increase resources for pediatric mental health resources.
“Bold action is needed to save lives and get mental health treatment to Colorado’s children,” Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said in a news release. “It isn’t a lack of caring that’s at issue, it is an unconscionable lack of resources devoted to the mental health of children.”
Kathy Morris, the Durango School District’s safety and security coordinator, talked Wednesday about another Attorney General Office program, Safe2Tell program, which is an anonymous way for students, parents, school staff and community members to report concerns regarding their safety or the safety of others Since 2011, suicide has been the No. 1 most reported concern to Safe2Tell, she explained. For more information, visit safe2tell.org. The program, which was launched in 2004, is a direct result of the Columbine shooting.
Klebold said the resources that are available now show how much progress has been made in youth mental health awareness.
Nearly 20 years after the incident, Klebold was asked what she would do differently as a parent, knowing what she does now. Her voice quivered in answering.
“I did an inadequate job,” she said. “ … I feel, always, the same ache, the same regret. I think there is certainly one thing I wish I had done differently, and this is why I talk to people and share his story.
“If I had to do it over and I were raising my child again, I would try to do one thing better and that is I would shut up and listen. I don’t think we as adults are very good at that.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Locally, contact Tri-County Health Network (970-708-7096 or email@example.com) or the San Miguel Resource Center (844-816-3915 or firstname.lastname@example.org).