Support groups reach out to youths after two suicides

By: Erika Alvero Journal Staff Writer and Mary Shinn Reporter and The Journal

Jan. 24, 2019

The recent suicides of two middle school students over the weekend have spurred conversation in Montezuma-Cortez schools and in the larger community about suicide prevention and youth mental health.

The teenagers who died, 15-year-old Jeit Redrock Height and 14-year-old Andrew William Cuch Jr., were members of the Towaoc community and enrolled at Cortez Middle School.

“This week has been really tough,” said Carrie Schneider, the seventh-grade counselor at CMS and the district’s crisis counselor. “It’s just hard to hear that we have this many students that we’ve lost to suicide, or even attempting. It’s been tough.”

Also in the past week, two high school students attempted to take their own lives, according to the school district. Both students were recovering in the hospital on Thursday.

The suicides in Cortez are part of a larger trend across Colorado and the nation.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents in Colorado, according to Andrew Romanoff, CEO and president of Mental Health Colorado. Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between 10 and 24, after accidental injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Suicide has proven to be a very stubborn. … The numbers don’t seem to go down,” Romanoff said.

Last year in Montezuma County, 13 people, all age 18 or older, died by suicide, up from 11 in 2017, according to county Coroner George Deavers. In 2016, two young students died by suicide in the county.

The reasons for a death by suicide are generally multilayered, said Jarrod Hindman, deputy chief of the violence and injury prevention and mental health promotion branch of the Colorado Department of Health.

Some of the contributing factors to suicide risk can include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, poverty and historical trauma. A victim of ongoing sexual or physical violence is also at risk of suicide, he said.

The deaths have shaken community, students and teachers alike. Schneider has been meeting with a stream of students since Tuesday, she said, and the middle school has seen a host of student absences.

She expressed gratitude for teachers’ strength, highlighting their ability to maintain structure in the classroom.

“I’m grateful that we have such a strong group of teachers,” Schneider said. “I know our teachers have been talking with students and checking in and listening to them in this time.”

She has encouraged students to meet with counselors during lunch, she said, just to hang out and know they have a trusted adult.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Lori Haukeness shared news on the recent suicides and suicide attempts and highlighted some of the specific actions going on right now.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of ALL our students,” she said in her letter. “We want each and every one of our students to know that YOU matter, we care about YOU, and we are here to SUPPORT YOU no matter what you are facing.”

Originally appeared in The Journal.