Heather Darbe is a woman with a mission—suicide prevention. She is the executive director of the Montrose Suicide Prevention Task Force.
The Monitor wondered why Darbe, who has three kids and is a school guidance counselor, has that particular passion. She freely gave us an answer that was quite personal and touching. “Actually, I have a bit of history with suicide,” Darbe revealed. “I’ve attempted it twice.” She was only 12 years old the first time. Her motive was a mystery to her then, and now. “ I don’t remember being sad or anything. I don’t know, and that kind of scares me.”
Darbe confided that she had often suffered depression and accompanying bouts of “suicidal ideation,” i.e. thoughts of suicide. “I’ve always struggled with that thought, that if something bad has happened I would want to be just done with everything.”
Fortunately, she has received successful mental health treatment.
Darbe graduated from college as an accountant, an office-bound job that did not fit her warm, outgoing personality. She then became a teacher at Colorado Mesa University, which was a much better fit. As soon as she entered the classroom, she thought, “Oh, my gosh! I love this! I love teaching people and informing people.”
Her next job was at the Center for Mental Health, in Montrose. That’s where her dedication to preventing suicide began. “It was training and community outreach. I would go around and teach people about various mental illnesses. Then, I would train them in mental health first aid, such as how you recognize symptoms and how you can help that person.” Of course, that included how to identify signs that a person might be at risk of suicide. “So, that’s how I came along. Now, I’m actually getting my master’s degree in psychology.”
Darbe’s mental health work evolved into a mission when she met Melissa Gomez, who became her best friend. “She and I are mission-driven about suicide prevention, especially among teenagers.” Heather said that Melissa had lost her 13 year-old son to suicide.
“I’ve always said that teenagers are so ‘dangerous’ because their perception is…tunnel vision,” Darbe explained. “They often don’t see the whole picture. It can be very dangerous, so one of our main things is to teach how to reach out to a friend; will that friend know how to get you help?”
The Monitor asked about the resources that the Suicide Prevention Task Force can provide. Darbe smiled as the answered. “That’s the exciting part. We’ve developed a couple of programs and projects.
“In addition to providing the suicide prevention text line numbers, the National Suicide Prevention numbers, the Center for Mental Health crisis services, and other crisis intervention services in the Montrose area, we actually provide peers,” she said. “We call them volunteer peer support people. The technical name for them is ‘The R.J. Mentors’.” R.J. stands for Riley James, Melissa Gomez’s son who killed himself.
The peer program works like this. “If somebody is struggling with suicide, but it’s going to take them a couple of weeks to get professional help, they can reach out to us,” Darbe explained. “Then, we can hook them up with somebody who is familiar with suicidal thoughts and would be willing to help them stay safe until they can get that professional help.”
The R.J. Mentors are trained to handle these situations. “They’ve undergone 26 hours of suicide prevention training,” Darbe said. “That includes CPR, Mental Health First Aid, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills.” They also have to have had suicidal thoughts themselves, or have lost a loved one to suicide.
Speaking of the latter, the Task Force is trying to expand its Loss Team; that’s a local group that helps folks who have lost family and friends to suicide. “If someone has lost someone to suicide, team members will go out and talk to the family, if they have the family’s permission.” Darbe explained that this is to help people work through the guilt, shame, and blame that often erupt in the wake of a suicide.
To be clear, the Suicide Prevention Task Force does not handle emergency situations, such as people who are in immediate danger of ending their own lives. Those are handled by the Center for Mental Health’s Emergency Services. “We’re not a crisis-based task force,” Darbe said. “We can help a person who is safe, and not immediately ready to die, but is actively thinking about it, and needs support until they can get professional help.”
You can get those emergency services 24/7 by calling the Center at 970-252-6220.
Or, you can text 741741.
To get more information about the Suicide Prevention Task Force, please go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SuicidePreventionRegion10/. And, you can visit their sister organization, the Montrose Suicide Prevention Coalition, at www.montrosesuicideprevention.org.