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Colorado leading the charge in building a comprehensive suicide prevention model

Paige Wagner

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and San Juan Basin Public Health is working hard in a national coalition to help prevent suicide in our communities and beyond.

The Colorado-National Collaborative is an initiative testing a statewide response to suicide. The pilot project began in 2018 and aims to reduce Colorado’s suicide rate 20% by 2024. If the initiative proves successful, the model may be expanded beyond our state.

The collaborative is made up of representatives from the state of Colorado; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the Education Development Center; and six public health departments including SJBPH.

La Plata is working alongside Montezuma, Mesa, El Paso, Pueblo and Larimer counties to implement interventions shown to be effective at reducing risk factors for suicide.

Suicide prevention looks like a lot of different things that may seem disconnected at first. The Colorado National Collaborative has provided evidence-based strategies and tools to coordinate these efforts and demonstrate how they comprehensively protect our community.

In 2024, state and national partners will evaluate Colorado’s progress using this model. Suicide rates in La Plata County are improving, but our goal is to completely eliminate suicide ideation and attempts. If this pilot project is even partially successful, it may have a big impact on the way other states address suicide. Because crises arise in many ways, we use a multifaceted approach to preventing them.

The interventions the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative is using fall into six pillars of suicide prevention:

  • Building connectedness. Healthy relationships and close connections are strongly protective against many risk behaviors, including thoughts of suicide. This strategy can touch everyone, but the La Plata County collaborative prioritizes at-risk populations including service industry workers, veterans and their families, older adults and students. The collaborative has recently had the opportunity to support In the Weeds, a local resource and support group for food and hospitality workers from more than 75 local establishments, with materials.
  • Increasing economic stability. Multiple systems have to work together to create economic stability. This includes laws and policies; child care and school options; adequate employment and living wages; access to housing, food, transportation, social services and education. Our local collaborative was able to directly support the Pine River Shares Field to Fork project this summer, which is committed to creating a healthy independent food system in the Pine River Valley. The project mobilizes residents of the valley to produce, buy and consume locally harvested food.
  • Increasing education and training. By expanding trainings related to suicide or mental well-being, our collaborative is helping to increase and broaden local knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes about suicide, ultimately reducing suicide attempts and deaths. In this effort, our collaborative has supported 10 community members in becoming “Changing our Mental and Emotional Trajectory” – COMET – trainers. These new trainers will be sharing their knowledge with others in the community, so expect to see local COMET trainings available in the upcoming months.
  • Improving access and delivery of responsive care. Implementing best practices in health care systems and organizations will see improvement in quality of patient care and reduction of suicide risk, attempts and deaths for those within their system. To move in this direction, the majority of health care providers in La Plata County are using the national “Zero Suicide” framework in their practices.
  • Supporting safety around lethal means. Safe storage of firearms and prescription or illicit drugs is linked to fewer firearms and drug injuries, overdoses and fatalities. The La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative supports a local firearms advocate as part of the Gun Shop Project, which promotes safe firearms storage and mental health resources directly through gun retailers across the region. This summer alone, our local firearms advocate has worked with more than 20 retailers and will continue to expand this outreach into the fall.
  • Providing postvention and bereavement supports. If there is a local death by suicide, stakeholders have a plan to responsibly report the death and proactively serve the community at large, while respectfully supporting survivors of suicide loss. Our collaborative has provided resources to peer support groups through the Grief Center of Southwestern Colorado.

To learn more about local projects and how you can get involved in the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative, please visit www.lpcsuicideprevention.com.

Colorado Crisis Services is the statewide behavioral health crisis response system offering residents mental health, substance use or emotional crisis help, information and referrals. Its mission is to strengthen Colorado’s mental health system by providing Coloradans with greater access to crisis services wherever they are at 24/7/365 regardless of ability to pay.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call or text the Colorado Crisis Line.

Call (844) 493-8255 or text “TALK” TO 38255.

Paige Wagner is the Thriving Communities program manager for San Juan Basin Public Health. Reach her at pwagner@sjbpublichealth.org.