The suicide Sunday of Aspen Times Arts Editor Stewart Oksenhorn has emotionally devastated the paper’s newsroom. Yesterday, the Aspen Times staff closed the offices for a time to grieve and meet with a counselor as Oksenhorn’s colleagues processed the loss. APR's Roger Adams reports.
“My, my first thoughts are that, um, we lost a, a, a good man and a kind soul and a dear friend. More importantly, my, my first thoughts are with his family his, his daughter and Candace his wife. He, he was a special man and meant so much to so many people.”
He also leaves behind family in other states and many friends in the valley. While the reasons for taking his own life may never be known it doesn’t stop those who knew Oksenhorn from wondering why he made the choice he did. It’s the first thing people want to know.
“Its difficult to get in the head of a person who is in such a dark place though, um, as, as one person told me yesterday we, we can all discuss this in a rational manner but, whatever was going through his mind at that time was highly probable he was not being rational.”
Jarrod Hindman is the Manager of Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention.
“Tunnel vision can often be a component of a suicidal mind”
Depression and mental illness often combined with substance abuse are key elements involved when someone takes their own life. At the same time, there are many very public services available to treat each of them. Sadly, says Hindman even knowing these services exist doesn’t mean people in a crisis will use them.
“Too often, people know the services are available but, for what ever reason, and I don’t know what those reasons might be, they choose to not access those services.”
Reporter: “Perhaps mental health stigma, that kind of thing?”
“Absolutely, the stigma around that. You know we have a whole campaign and part of this campaign was done in Pitkin County, what we call Man Therapy. And, the whole goal of that campaign is to get men to realize that taking care of their mental health and accessing services, when they’re in need, is incredibly important.”
The success rate of suicide prevention is difficult to determine and the goals of reducing deaths are modest. One prevention project in Finland in the late 1980’s tried to reduce suicide by 20 percent and reached just about half that number. A study of all suicide prevention in English speaking countries from 1975 onward found real reductions of around 4 percent. The issue is complex and multi-faceted in terms of the reasons people become suicidal. It is equally complex to design a prevention plan.
“Currently I’m working with a commission, a convening of people in Colorado and we have set our vision of showing a ten percent reduction in the suicide rate over the next five years. So, when you talk about a place like Colorado where we have actually seen the suicide rate increase since 2009 showing any type of reduction is a win.”
Suicide prevention is still a new science. The first known organized efforts began in New York and London in 1906. Amid the pain of loss friends and family are left with is guilt for maybe missing a sign of distress or feeling like they could have done something. At the Aspen Times, Editor Rick Carroll says he and his staff are feeling all of that.
“There is help available in this community through the Aspen Hope Center or other means. So, we do need to focus on that aspect of this too; that someone’s pain isn’t clearly evident to those around them.”
Stewart Oksenhorn turned fifty last November. Planning is just beginning for a memorial. Below are links to local and state suicide prevention resources. Also, there is a link to the Office of Suicide Prevention's latest annual report to the legislature. There is also a link to a World Health Organization paper on the effectiveness of organized suicide prevention measures.