La Plata County will have more information to better prevent youth suicides next year after a study that will be funded by the Attorney General’s Office.
La Plata, Pueblo, El Paso and Mesa counties were selected for funding because they have the highest suicide rates in the state, according to a new release.
The study was inspired by the rise in students reporting threats of suicide to Safe2Tell, a statewide anonymous hotline that students can use to report concerns about their safety or the safety of others, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said. Coffman’s office oversees the hotline.
During a four-month period last year – Aug. 1 through Nov. 30 – there were 463 suicide threats reported to Safe2Tell statewide. During the same period this year, there were 910 suicide threats reported to the hotline, an increase of 96.5 percent, according to Annie Skinner, a spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s Office.
Reports to the hotline have saved students who have already attempted to overdose or to hang themselves, Coffman said.
“We know that we are making a difference, but we don’t want kids getting to this point,” she said.
Durango School District 9-R has seen an increase in suicide threats that mirrors the increase seen in the state.
The district received 85 reports of suicide threats since adopting the Safe2Tell program in 2008. Thirty-one of those suicide threat tips were made during the 2016-17 school year.
The study, to be conducted from January through May, will gather feedback from students, parents, school administrators, nonprofit leaders, community leaders, law enforcement and social services administrators.
The group plans to gather information about trends and trigger factors, Coffman said.
It will also look at risk factors, such as trauma, substance abuse and family conflict. In addition, it will look at protective factors, such as having a trusted adult to talk to and feeling connected to school, said Sarah Brummett, director of the state Office of Suicide Prevention. Brummett’s office is helping with the study.
“If we are supporting the entire community with protective factors, it can go much farther in prevention,” she said.
The Attorney General’s Office hired Health Management Associates to conduct focus groups in each of the four communities to gather and compile the information.
“We want to leave each community with a document and human interaction to explain what we’ve found, so communities feel that they have a plan going forward,” Coffman said.
The Attorney General’s Office has set aside $173,000 for the study, and the four counties selected can expect help with finding additional sources of funding around youth suicide prevention, she said. It has not been determined how the funding will be split, she said.
Funding for suicide prevention has been hard to come by, and her office is working to raise the profile of the issue at the state level, she said.