The state Office of Suicide Prevention has identified La Plata and Montezuma counties as priority areas for comprehensive prevention efforts.
The counties will be part of a collaborative effort between Colorado and national organizations to create a blueprint for preventing suicide here and in other states, said Sarah Brummett, director of the Office of Suicide Prevention.
Other Colorado counties that are high-priority areas are El Paso, Pueblo, Larimer and Mesa.
“The goal is to demonstrate it’s possible to see an impact on state rates,” Brummett said.
Many people tend to think of suicide prevention as intervention with a suicidal person, but the collaboration seeks to create plans to reach people before they are in crisis and after someone has died by suicide. The effort will target veterans not connected to services, older adults, middle-aged men and youths.
National groups that will be part of the collaboration include the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups selected Colorado as a working partner because of the high number of people who die by suicide each year and high suicide rates. The groups are also interested because the state has a dedicated office of suicide prevention, a commission focused on the topic and Colorado Crisis Services, which includes a statewide hotline.
Some western states with relatively low numbers of people who die by suicide have high rates because they have smaller populations, Brummett said.
In 2016, there were 1,156 suicides in Colorado, representing the highest number of suicide deaths ever, according to the Office of Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Suicide is also the leading cause of death for young people 10 to 24 years old in Colorado.
So far this year in La Plata County, there have been 19 suicides.
In Montezuma County, nine people had died by suicide as of mid-November, Coroner George Deavers said.
The prevention work has yet to receive funding, but meetings are ongoing, Brummett said.
Once the effort is funded, Brummett expects the money would be granted to organizations within local communities to expand available resources. The intent is not to duplicate or replace anything communities are already doing, she said.
Prevention efforts could include organizations such as first responders, the justice system, firearm communities and faith communities.
“It’s going to take each and every organization working together to see this impact,” she said.
For youths, having a caring and trusted adult in their lives and feeling connected to school can help prevent many negative health outcomes, including suicide, she said.
After someone dies by suicide, about 120 people are deeply affected, Brummett said, so it is important for those people to have community support or a grief group to help them through the grieving process, which can be isolating.
The specific efforts the state-national collaboration would fund have not been determined.