BAYFIELD – Celebrating Healthy Communities used stickers Saturday to spread its suicide prevention message during its second annual sticker shock event.
The Durango-based coalition organized the guerilla-marketing effort as part of Colorado’s suicide prevention and awareness month. The coalition used posters, bookmarks and stickers to share hotline numbers around the Southwest, where the suicide death rate outpaces the state’s rate. This year, the coalition expanded its reach beyond La Plata County to Montezuma and Dolores counties and met its goal of forging new community connections.
“This year we were trying to hit a lot more cities, so it definitely stretched us thin,” said Jon Roberts, Bayfield team lead for the event and former coalition intern. He said the coalition didn’t need a “loud impact” with a lot of people. “We need the quiet one so when the kid’s crying at 2 a.m. thinking he doesn’t matter, that sticker comes through his head.”
Roberts, 24, said he has known 27 people who died from suicide, although he said that number might be disproportionate because of his involvement in suicide prevention and awareness work.
“It’s way too many,” he said. “One is too many.”
The suicide rate in Southwest Colorado was 31.8 deaths per 100,000 during 2017. Across the state, the rate was 20.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 in the same year, according to the Colorado Health Institute.
In 2017, 18 people died by suicide in La Plata County and nine in Montezuma County, according to the state health department.
“I can talk about data. I can talk about numbers. But when you live in small communities ... and a suicide occurs in your town, everybody knows that person,” said Breeah Kinsella, director of Celebrating Healthy Communities. “And when you have high numbers of suicide, it has a huge effect on people.”
In 2018, the event covered La Plata County, potentially reaching up to 40,000 people. With the regional expansion, it could reach up to 91,000 people. About 160 businesses participated in the sticker shock event, and on Saturday, about 50 volunteers spread suicide prevention materials featuring the message “You Matter” and both local and national hotline numbers. They visited grocery stores, liquor stores, dispensaries, libraries, local businesses and more.
Stickers have longevity and they don’t require a lot of people to spread. Kinsella said suicide prevention stickers are still at 11th Street Station in Durango from the 2018 event. The Pine River Library in Bayfield still had last year’s poster and sticker on its bulletin board.
With the sticker shock, Ignacio is stepping up to educate and destigmatize mental illnesses and mental crises through a preventive approach, said Precious Collins, coalition coordinator for Celebrating Healthy Communities and member of the Ignacio sticker shock team.
“I would hate to see all this work happen after the crisis has happened,” Collins said, recalling several suicide deaths that affected the Ignacio community in the last five years.
The effort is about more than just stickers. It’s about forging new connections.
“When you go out into a community offering a resource like this, people want to know what you’re doing,” Kinsella said. “When you tell them, there’s almost always a story to follow up.”
Community members start sharing stories with volunteers about people they’ve lost, the thoughts they’ve had or how they want to get involved, she said.
“Suicide prevention, it’s very stigmatized ... especially in rural communities like we live in,” Roberts said. The event starts conversations that begin to break that stigma down through a tool as simple as a sticker. “It’s a lasting reminder, ... it’s something you see constantly.”
Celebrating Healthy Communities raised $3,000 for the sticker shock event. All the funds came from community groups, not state or federal grants, including the Bayfield School District, Fort Lewis College Wellness Peer Advisory Council, the Durango Rotary and a Facebook fundraiser.
“In five years, I would like to actually see it go regional,” Kinsella said, adding that she has already spoken with people from New Mexico and Utah about the project. “I would just love to see communities connecting with each other ... because I really believe that connection is that key component.”