The list of published authors to come out of Pueblo continues to grow. An alumni of the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo) and former contributing writer for the Chieftain, Erik Segall released his debut novel three years in the making on Dec 11th entitled: Not Yet. Also a former volunteer at the Pueblo Suicide Prevention Center before its closure, Segall’s book aptly deals with the topic of suicide – something with which he has plenty of personal and professional experience. “In creative writing and fiction, you’re told to write what you know. Well I wrote who I am, and that’s different,” said Segall, “It’s also kind of scary because now it’s out, and it’s very personal.”
The novel follows the experience of a social worker at a Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline Center who, in the midst of raising his teenage daughter as a single father, is confronted with the request of his grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease to assist her in the process of dying with dignity. Just in the short synopsis, the storyline of Segall’s book already parallels his personal experiences.
Not Yet is dedicated to Segall’s own late grandmother, who inspired the sort of juxtaposition that Segall’s main character grapples with in the novel. Said Segall: “Here I am all night taking suicide calls, trying to prevent suicide. Then all day, I’m working with my grandmother and she’s essentially asking me to assist her in death.”
There is a lot of stigma associated with the topics of suicide and assisted death. Even the term “committing suicide” carries a sort of negative or immoral connotation, as Segall points out, like “committing” a crime – it creates a subconscious association of it with illegality. In recent years, however, the narrative around suicide and suicide prevention has become more conscious.
Media is evolving and how suicide is covered, especially in the entertainment industry, has played a prominent role in making suicide less of a taboo subject – something Segall focuses on in his book. “There’s something about celebrity suicides that makes people go: ‘Oh wow, this is happening all the time,” said Segall, “Whereas maybe ten years ago, the media might have covered up how Robin Williams died.”
According to Segall’s research, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all ages in the United States. A suicide is completed in the U.S. every 12 minutes. Segall points out too that for the 50 thousand suicides completed in the U.S. last year, there were more than one and a half million suicides attempted. This startling statistic points to the real “epidemic” of suicide in America being the sheer amount of people who attempt suicide rather than complete suicide – all the more reason why proper suicide prevention services are so vital. Services which Segall says there still aren’t enough, especially in Pueblo.
After the Pueblo Suicide Prevention Center closed in 2015 due to a lack of funding, it left a void in the community for active suicide prevention resources. Three years later in the fall of 2018, the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Pueblo County (SPCPC) was formed in response to a need for these services in Pueblo. Segall currently serves on the SPCPC, which recently passed an initiative that will provide first responders on the scene of a completed suicide with assistance via a Suicide Response Team comprised of volunteers.
Despite the combined efforts by the SPCPC as well as other suicide prevention centers around Colorado, Segall affirms there is still more that could be done. “There’s obviously a need if we’re just having to sort of come in outside of a governmental agency,” said Segall, “There are services, there’s just not enough.”
Colorado makes the top 10 list of highest suicide rates in the nation. According to a report released by the attorney general’s office earlier this year, suicide deaths in Colorado have increased almost every year over the last 10 years – with La Plata, Pueblo, Mesa, and El Paso counties reporting the highest youth-suicide rates in the state. In La Plata County in particular, suicide deaths by firearms were higher than the state average. About 50 percent of youth suicides aged 10-18, and 67 percent of suicides aged 19-24 involved a gun, according to the report.
Segall notes a correlation between suicide rates and gun laws in his own research. While youth suicide is often more publicized, according to Segall, the most common age group that completes suicide in the U.S. are 40-50 year old white males – most often with a firearm.
“When you look at suicide rates in this country, it follows a pattern of accessibility to guns,” said Segall, “The further West you go, the looser the gun laws. You look at Alaska, Montana, Colorado and these places where gun regulations aren’t as strict, and you’ll find suicide rates are by far much higher.”
Above all, Segall just hopes his book will reach someone who needs it. “This is not about seeing my name in print or saying I’m a published author, because that’s all a facade,” said Segall, “This is not about anything except helping someone that I will never know about.” The title of the book alone is meant to be a message to those who may be struggling with suicidal ideation, as Segall said: “If someone a year from now who is really struggling – maybe she’s a mom and she lost her kid, or she’s in her 50’s and overwhelmed and thinking about ending her life – somehow reads a line, and it helps her through that moment, and suddenly she understands the point of the title – she thinks: ‘Ok I am depressed, I am suicidal, I’ve been having these thoughts for a few weeks now, but just not yet’ – that’s it. I hope that’s the message.”
Not Yet is available now in bookstores everywhere as well as online. A book launch for Segall will be held at Blo Back Art Gallery in Pueblo on Friday, Jan 10th at 7pm. He will be at Barnes and Noble the following Saturday, Jan 11th signing books from 11am to 1pm.
The importance of suicide prevention resources cannot be overstated. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation or contemplation, please don’t hesitate to reach out:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
Colorado Crisis Services – 1-844-493-8255 (TALK)