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Record number of crisis calls helping call takers save lives

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention reports 75% increase
Volunteers and mental health experts team-up to handle increase in crisis call volume
Posted at 5:20 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 15:30:23-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Growing numbers of people experiencing stress, anxiety, and loneliness are leading to a surge in calls to crisis hotlines and suicide prevention services in El Paso County. News5 spoke with the mental health experts and trained volunteers on the frontline answering the calls as more people find the courage to reach out for help.

Year after year, mental health experts have tried to combat the startling number of suicides in El Paso County. There was a major concern that suicide numbers would spike as a result of the coronavirus and lockdowns, but it turns out suicide numbers are down compared to this time last year as more people call for help.

"So right after the safer at home order went into effect our call volume increase by 75%," said Executive Director of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership Cassandra Walton. "Our call volume has increased, our virtual groups have been well-attended throughout the pandemic, and so people are definitely accessing all of the support available."

With the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership seeing this surge in people asking for help and the state's crisis hotlines seeing record numbers of calls, mental health experts feared we'd see a spike in people taking their lives during this stressful point in history.

"Year to date, we're actually about 20 cases behind where we were last year with suicides," said El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly.

Thanks to volunteers in the Pikes Peak Region who are making time to take calls and to help, needs are being met and lives saved.

"We haven't seen a spike which is what we were very fearful of with this pandemic. So I think our community has done a good job in the past 3 years of kind of stabilizing the situation to some extent," said Walton. "Now what I can also say is that any number of suicides is a bad number and what we want to see is a reduction."

Pete Leizer says he reached out for help after losing his son and his wife to suicide and experiencing deadly thoughts himself.

"I've got the distinction of being not only a suicide survivor. I did I guess attempt, or threaten to attempt back in 2013 before all this, but also I've had to go on with losing my son and then losing my wife here recently," said Leizer.

He says he's sharing his story publicly for the first time to let others know it's ok to seek help.

"These people need to take it seriously and treat it like they would treat diabetes or cancer or high blood pressure or cholesterol or different things like that. It's no different," said Leizer. "Unfortunately society has placed such a stigma on being able to divulge a mental illness or a mental problem you know? It needs to change."

In many cases it's volunteers and interns like Maria Cortes, Laura Barnes, and Ron Johnson who are the ones on the frontline taking calls and hosting zoom meetings to help people to open up in order to manage their mental health.

"When I see a new participant I immediately want to congratulate them for having courage enough to show their vulnerability," said Johnson. "It is very difficult to walk that razor's edge between courage and resilience and durability in terms of your emotional life and being tender and vulnerable enough to share."

"If there's a situation that this person has gone through that's something similar to me I'm able to talk about it," said Cortes. "I'm able to share that too so it's a healing process for me as well."

"What gives me hope is that some of my clients who are suicidal and are struggling with the extra stress of COVID-19 have actually made progress," said Barnes, who is a social work masters student intern.

Some of those working on the frontline of this mental health battle tell News5 they believe sometimes people wait too long to make that first call for help and they are already experiencing a major crisis. So if you could use someone to talk to, don't wait. You can reach out to someone 24/7.

Here are some of those hotlines and resources:

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention
Free and confidential support groups for adults and adolescents with thoughts or actions toward suicide. Support groups for family members of attempters. Children Left Behind by Suicide: weekly grief support groups for youth who have lost someone to suicide.
Site: www.pikespeaksuicideprevention.org
Phone: (719) 573-7447
Address: 704 N. Tejon St, Colorado Springs 80903
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Colorado Crisis Services (24 hour hotline)
Phone: (844) 493–TALK (8255)
Text: "TALK" to 38255
Site: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Heartbeat
Monthly support groups for adults who have lost someone to suicide from 7-9pm on the first Tuesday of each month.
Location: East Methodist Church, 1505 E. Monument St, 80903
Phone: (719) 337-6640
Site: www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org
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Aspen Pointe Lighthouse
Phone: (719) 572-6340
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Self-Injury Hotline
Phone: (800) 366-8288). {800-DONT-CUT}
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Suicide Prevention (National)
Phone: (800) 273-TALK (8255)
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The Trevor Project
The only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people (ages 13-24).
Phone: (866) 488-7386
Text: "TREVOR" to (202) 304-1200
Site: www.thetrevorproject.org
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National Veterans Crisis Line
Phone: (800) 273-8255 /press 1
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Vets 4 Warriors
(answered 24/7 by veterans)
Phone: (855) 838-8255
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Safe2Tell
Phone: (877) 542-SAFE (7233)
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Peak Military Care Network
Extensive directory of all local services, and state and national resources, for veterans, active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve members, and their families.
Phone: (719) 955-0742
Site: http://www.pikespeak.co.networkofcare.org/veterans
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Military 1 Source (a hub for all military-related services)
Phone: (800) 342-9647