La Plata and Montezuma counties are among six in Colorado selected to participate in collaboration to create a model for suicide prevention that could be used nationwide.
The goal of the Colorado-National Collaborative is to create a suicide-prevention model to reduce suicide 20 percent statewide by 2024, said Jarrod Hindman, deputy chief of the Violence and Injury Prevention-Mental Health Promotion Branch of the state health department.
National suicide-prevention groups wanted to work with Colorado because it has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, 20.3 people per 100,000 in 2016, Hindman said. Across the country, the suicide rate is 13.5 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado also has a high number of suicides, with 1,140 suicide deaths in 2016, according to the Office of Suicide Prevention. This sets it apart from other Western states with lower populations that have high rates but don’t have a high number of deaths by suicide, he said.
State leaders are motivated to address the state’s growing problem, which also factored into its selection, he said.
Hindman presented goals of the efforts to representatives from San Juan Basin Public Health, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, nonprofits, law enforcement departments, schools, other groups and residents last week.
“My main priority for today is that we leave with agreement that we want to partner and we want to move forward,” he said.
“We all want to see this one goal happen in our community,” Laura Warner, director of health promotion services for San Juan Basin Public Health, said at the meeting.
It will likely take time and require agreement about how to do suicide prevention across the county, she said.
La Plata County also was selected to be part of the collaboration because suicide-prevention efforts are underway. Last year, the health department launched a countywide effort to spread awareness about suicide, promote free suicide intervention trainings and improve the coordination between mental health agencies, among other work.
As part of the collaborative, La Plata County organizations are likely to receive more funding and expert guidance.
The national groups involved in the Colorado-National Collaborative are: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Suicide Prevention Resource Center; and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The budget for suicide prevention in Colorado will increase from about $500,000 to $2.5 million in October because of additional state appropriations and grant funding, Hindman said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation is also actively fundraising for the effort. Organizers requested $4 million per year for five years from the foundation, he said.
Grants will support suicide prevention in schools, suicide-intervention training and Zero Suicide Initiatives in health and mental health care organizations. A Zero Suicide Initiative is a commitment health care organizations can make that includes a set of nationally accepted practices that can be introduced to prevent suicide. For example, the initiative recommends screening every patient for suicidal thoughts or behaviors so that the information can be part of their electronic medical records.
The Colorado-National Collaborative leaders want all health care systems to adopt the Zero Suicide Initiative, including emergency departments, primary care clinics, hospitals and behavioral health centers, he said.
This could help reach older adults, a priority group for the collaborative, because a significant percentage of older adults who die by suicide have seen their primary care doctor in the months leading up to their death, Hindman said.
The collaboration also will work to prioritize youth and support prevention programs that teach social and emotional skills to students before they become suicidal.
Adult suicide prevention will be targeted to reach those groups most at risk. Those groups are identified by detailed state- and county-level data. For example, the highest number of deaths by suicide in Colorado between 2004 and 2015 were among construction workers and unemployed people.
The group also wants to reach military veterans who are not receiving services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The collaborative representatives are gathering the prevention priorities from each of the six counties participating, which includes Larimer, El Paso, Mesa and Pueblo counties.
At least some of the same suicide-prevention programs and practices need to be implemented across all communities so that experts can judge what measures were effective, said Sarah Brummett, director of the Office of Suicide Prevention.
Durango resident Lynn Dearey, who survived a suicide attempt, told those at the meeting that everyone needs to be challenged to play a part by keeping their eyes open to people who are hurting.
“You have the ability to save someone’s life with your smile,” she said.