Two high school students committed suicide on back-to-back days at opposite ends of Mesa County. A Fruita Monument High School student committed suicide on April 20. A Palisade High School student committed suicide the next day.
There is no evidence indicating the two deaths are related.
“He was such a sweet kid,” Stephanie Friese, a friend of the Fruita Monument High School student’s family said. “He literally shrieked and giggled when I’d pretend to be afraid of his colorful spider pictures.”
Friese did not want to believe that her friend was dead when she first heard the news.
“I was hoping it was some sort of mistake,” Friese said.
The latest teenage suicides add to an already high suicide rate in Mesa County. Mesa County is consistently ranked in the top five counties in Colorado for death by suicide, according to the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation.
“Mesa County’s combination of urban issues, strong attitude of self-reliance and social isolation may be some of the factors contributing to higher rates of suicide,” the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation wrote on its website. “Unfortunately, the trend line shows an increase in the number of suicides over the past year.”
The 2016 Mesa County Coroner’s Suicide Report supported the foundation’s claim. According to the report, 37 Mesa County deaths were attributed to suicide in 2015, and 48 deaths were from suicide in 2016. Twenty-seven percent of the 48 suicides involved people in the 10-29 age-range.
District 51 issued a letter to families on April 27 that told parents to reach out immediately if they felt their children needed support or someone to talk to.
In the letter, District 51 expressed concerns that television shows romanticizing suicide, such as “13 Reasons Why,” could affect an already at-risk group.
District 51 does have suicide prevention methods set up at its schools. These methods include presentations from the National Alliance of Mental Health and Hope West Grief groups. Additionally, they conduct age-appropriate training on the signs of suicide every year.
In the aftermath of two student suicides in two days, District 51 is increasing mental health and support services. Emily Shockley, District 51 Public Information Officer, said extra counselors will be available at affected schools for as long as needed.
“In the past, we’ve been told that students were not aware of the extra counselors,” Shockley said. “So, we’ve provided the crisis intervention team with t-shirts to make them more visible.”
Shockley said that the District wants to ramp up efforts to prevent tragedy from striking their students. In addition to extra counselors, Safe-To-Tell and Suicide Prevention Hotline information is being distributed in greater quantity than before.
“The signs of suicide classes will now be done in all grades two times a year,” Shockley said. “Sometimes students move in during the middle of the year and we want to make sure they don’t miss out on the training.”
Grand Junction High School students are getting involved as well. The senior class is presenting the gift of a pergola, an arbor formed of horizontal trelliswork supported on columns, for students to utilize.
“It’s a place to go and reflect and think about people we’ve lost,” Shockley said. “And think about hope for the future.”