Imagine living in a place surrounded by natural beauty and filled with people who care so deeply about one another that generous support is offered without hesitation during challenging times. This community may sound familiar since those of us fortunate enough to call the Four Corners home have witnessed such caring and resilience this summer as we face wildland fires and their aftermath. San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) recognizes the strong connections in our community, both among individuals and between local organizations impacting health, and is working to further strengthen networks as part of local suicide prevention efforts. Since September is National Suicide Prevention Month, we’d like to highlight the power of creating meaningful connections to foster greater mental health and well-being for all community members.

Meaningful relationships to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers are vital to maintaining healthy bodies and minds, and they promote other long-term benefits such as an increase in a sense of belonging, and deeper understanding of others. SJBPH staff members representing Thriving Youth Programs, along with multiple partner organizations, have recently focused on learning about the importance of these connections from youth throughout La Plata County. Important lessons have included the similar challenges that youth face regardless of where they call home, and their desire to connect with peers from neighboring schools and communities as a means to support one another. Our youth have great strengths to share with each other and with adults; strengths that allow them to thrive and overcome hardships in life.

Local events have provided a venue for further relationship-building by giving youth a platform to have their voices heard, and by educating adults on the power of these intentional, authentic relationships. These relationships are the ones at the foundation of our supportive, resilient community. Examples of such events include the Youth Voice showcase held during the (North) Main Event in April 2018 and July’s Youth-Adult Partnership workshop facilitated by RiseAbove, CO; an organization that empowers youth to make healthy choices.

The importance of connectedness is also essential in the partnerships with local organizations including many serving Bayfield, Ignacio and Durango. SJBPH is collaborating with area schools, health and mental health care agencies, youth-serving organizations, and several other key partners in efforts to align activities and resources related to mental health promotion. Coordination can take the form of co-hosting mental health awareness events, teaming up on media campaigns, attending trainings together, and more. By coming together, agencies, organizations, and caring individuals can make a greater impact on the work we are all doing to create healthier individuals, families and communities. One of the most important messages SJBPH is working to spread widely, is that every single person in our community has a role to play in creating the fabric of strong social connections and support. Young and old have the ability to strengthen ties with friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers,  moving us all closer to living in that naturally beautiful, resilient place we’d like to call home. Ask yourself which connection you’d like to build today. How can your words, your smile, or your helping hand contribute to making someone in your world feel valued?

For the month of September, SJBPH is joining with hundreds of national, state, and local organizations to promote action to reduce suicides. The #BeThere campaign is focused on mobilizing individuals to support a person who is struggling or in crisis by reaching out and creating a caring connection. Visit the agency’s website at https://sjbpublichealth.org or call 970-335-2091 to learn more about this campaign and other ways you can support local suicide prevention efforts.

Laura Warner, M.D., M.P.H. Director of Health Promotion Services