Sadly, the southwest Colorado region has experienced more than its share of suicides over the last few years, with regional and state suicide rates significantly higher than the national average. The demographics of suicide victims are broad, crossing a wide range of ages, genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Suicide is a major public health issue as it undermines the intent of public health – to promote and protect health, and to prolong the lives of people in the communities where they live, work and play.

To begin challenging this issue, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) is planning a Suicide Prevention Community Summit to engage local individuals, families, organizations, and businesses in a community-based event focused on building support for suicide prevention. The summit takes place on May 11th from 5-8 p.m. at Miller Middle School and is considered a “kick-off” event on the subject of suicide prevention, with other community-based activities to follow in a more sustained, long-term effort. A goal of participating organizations is to hear from the community regarding what resources are available, and more importantly, what resources are still needed to provide support to any and all community members needing help.

The summit will highlight a suicide intervention training appropriate for all adult-aged community members, led by a qualified suicide prevention trainer. Additionally, break-out sessions will be conducted for specific groups such as parents of elementary-aged children, seniors, LGBTQ youth, and others. There will be a number of local support organizations sharing resources as well as opportunities to gather ideas, suggestions, and questions through the “feedback gallery walk.”  Activities for children (6 years and older) will be provided by Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County and Spanish-language interpreters will be available.

A key to the success of the summit is a high level of engagement from all members of local and regional communities to ensure that future suicide prevention efforts are based on needs unique to local communities and identified gaps in services, as expressed by participants. SJBPH supports the sentiment “it takes a village” understanding the positive impact that individuals and groups outside the family have not only on children, but individuals of any age, across the lifespan. Through efforts like the summit, SJBPH advocates for a society which meets all of an individual’s needs.

SJPBH has recently launched two new efforts supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that could potentially address some of the gaps in support identified at the summit. Communities That Care (CTC) is a community-based process that promotes healthy youth development, improves youth outcomes, and reduces problem behaviors using prevention science to achieve these goals. Additionally, SJBPH received funding to further the integration of behavioral health and primary care through the State Innovation Model (SIM) Initiative. SIM improves population health through an improved public health infrastructure, in which fragmented care is addressed and social, economic, and environmental factors are strongly considered when addressing physical and mental health needs. These programs will affect not only those most vulnerable to behavioral health issues, but will impact systems of care for every community member so that no one is left behind.

Claire Ninde, Communications Director