EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -

A mental health program from a Tennessee psychiatrist is being expanded to El Paso County with hopes of lowering its high suicide rate.

The free program, called "The Courage to Live," is being implemented through the Suicide Prevention Partnership with support from the military community.  It was introduced during a dinner at Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs.

El Paso County had 112 suicides last year and has averaged more than 100 each year this decade, according to Janet Karnes of the partnership.  The exact reasons are unclear, she said, although she cited depression as a major factor.

Helping to kick-off the program is retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, the former commander at Fort Carson.  His son, Kevin, had stopped taking medication for depression when he committed suicide in 2003.

"Kevin was ashamed," said Graham.  "We knew he had some depression.  I didn't know you could die from being too sad.  As a father, my wife and I, we just didn't know enough about mental illness."

The program, described as highly successful by Graham and Karnes, seeks to prevent suicides by providing self-help workbooks to people who have considered or attempted suicide.  Participants also may join discussion groups with other people who have had similar experiences.

"We've been trying to find out what suicide attempters had to say," Karnes said.  "I found out that a lot of them won't call a hot line, because they don't want police to show up at their  door.  They just want to talk to other people who understand what they're going through."

Karnes said the program needs such people to volunteer for the discussion groups and serve as sponsors, similar to the 12-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous.  The suicide groups will be called Suicide Anonymous.  

Another part of the program, called "Words Can Work," is designed to help families and close friends better understand why a loved one took his or her own life.  They also can learn intervention skills to step in if they see a loved one showing warning signs of suicide. 

Statistics from the partnership show that for every completed suicide, there are 25 attempted suicides and dozens more contemplated suicides.  The county's suicide rate for military veterans is five times the national average.

The program especially targets men because traditionally they are more reluctant to seek help and more likely to commit suicide.  Women are more likely to attempt suicide.

The workbooks will be available next week and people can begin signing up for the program then.

For more information, contact the partnership at 719-573-7447.