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Thriving Communities programs use social connection to promote healthy lifestyle

Katheryn Maloney

Did you know relationships may be as important to health as exercise and nutrition?

Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, improve sleep, boost immune function, lower risk of some diseases like heart disease and dementia, and can even lead to a longer life. Social connection is also crucial for our community’s health. It builds trust and resilience, improves safety and supports our economy.

The Thriving Communities programs at San Juan Basin Public Health strive to boost social connection, working with community members and organizations to reach greater health for all who live, work and play in our area. Through efforts in three main areas: suicide prevention, tobacco education and youth substance use prevention, the programs provide education, resources and prevention tools to support behavioral health in our community.

Suicide prevention

Through the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative, the Thriving Communities programs and partners focus on social connection as one of the most effective means to decrease suicide rates in the community. The collaborative uses data-driven strategies from the Colorado National Collaborative to work to reduce suicide and suicide attempts. Each month, members from many organizations and sectors meet to discuss innovative and inclusive efforts to prevent suicide in our community and among high-risk populations.

This summer, the collaborative provided three grants for connectedness projects, totaling over $40,000. In The Weeds – a local nonprofit supporting mental health, suicide prevention and substance use prevention for the service industry – used the money to provide free social events and the Mise en Place peer support group. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 increased virtual meeting opportunities for homebound veterans, provided social events for veterans and families, and created a sober space. The Grief Center of Southwest Colorado provided support groups to suicide-attempt survivors, those who lost a loved one to suicide, and for youths who have lost a parent or caregiver to suicide.

This September, the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative invites the community to join in celebrating Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Tobacco education

Partnership is key in supporting Thriving Communities’ work to prevent tobacco use and support those who want to quit. Through these programs, SJBPH’s tobacco prevention coordinator works with school administrators and educators across Archuleta and La Plata counties to support tobacco-free policies and education.

This fall, through SJBPH’s work with the Rainbow Youth Center and the UpRISE Coalition, young people will have an opportunity to meet and explore tobacco as a social justice issue, identify root causes of tobacco use, and work toward social change. UpRISE provides a chance for young people to share their unique views and develop creative solutions.

The Tobacco Education program is also partnering with local business owners and community members to support smoke- and vapor-free spaces. The Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act protects clean, breathable air in communal indoor spaces and some outdoor spaces, including those within 25 feet of businesses, restaurants and bump-outs. Community members and businesses can take the Breathe Easy on Main Avenue pledge to support smoke- and vapor-free spaces, supporting a healthy and happy environment for all who live, work, recreate and visit here.

Youth substance use prevention

SJBPH also leads the Recognizing Opportunities Around Resilience (ROAR) Coalition, a grant-funded Community Organizing for Prevention program. Youth-serving organizations, law enforcement, government agencies, educators and more gather to explore innovative, positive ways to prevent youth substance use.

Prevention is at the heart of ROAR’s mission. Evidence shows that strong social connections are directly tied to decreased youth substance use. The ROAR Coalition has identified positive social opportunities as a priority to prevent use for local youths. Through group efforts, members are working to increase opportunities for positive social interaction for youths across La Plata County.

The ROAR Coalition also supports the work of partners by providing trainings that reinforce connection. Recent trainings have covered motivational interviewing for youths, trauma-informed care for youths and positive youth development.

How to Connect

To learn more about Thriving Communities programs, visit the following websites or attend an upcoming event. or questions, contact the Behavioral Health Promotion Program Manager Katheryn Maloney at kmaloney@sjbpublichealth.org or 335-2049.

  • sjbpublichealth.org/calendar
  • sjbpublichealth.org/thrivingcommunities
  • lpcsuicideprevention.com

Katheryn Maloney is the Behavioral Health Promotion Program manager. Reach her at kmaloney@sjbpublichealth.org or 335-2049.