When it comes to public health programming for youths, San Juan Basin Public Health focuses on the promotion of healthy behaviors as well as prevention, policy and system change.
SJPBH’s Thriving Communities Program takes an innovative approach to the prevention of risky behaviors for youths, by focusing on building resilience and addressing factors that increase risks. This program offers leading support to local coalitions, like the Recognizing Opportunities Around Resilience (ROAR) Coalition and the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative. These community-based teams in Southwest Colorado are focused on reducing substance misuse and suicide rates of young people in our region.
Young people in La Plata and Archuleta counties experience complex social challenges. SJPBH works to support youth-serving organizations that focus on providing high-quality extracurricular activities, teaching social skills, and creating bonding opportunities with families and trusted adults. Developing social skills and being recognized for applying these skills help reduce the likelihood of drug and tobacco use or suicide contemplation among youths. When a person is supported, educated and encouraged – regardless of their past behaviors – they are more likely to feel empowered and make healthy decisions.
The above-mentioned coalitions are made up of many of these youth-supportive organizations, but also include a broader representation of nontraditional partners aimed at supporting our young residents. Through the development of partnerships with other community organizations, businesses, medical providers, law enforcement, schools, faith-based institutions and individual adults, teenagers and adolescents, SJBPH is helping to build sustainable initiatives. We understand that one organization cannot solve such complex issues in isolation, and that by acting together, we can collectively realize our goals, avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts all while maximizing our available resources.
To effectively help young people build resilience and develop in a healthy way, risk and protective factors that exist in our communities must be addressed. A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chances of unhealthy behaviors, and a protective factor is something that reduces risk, or something that supports young people in their response to risk in their lives.
Research tells us that some risk factors are connected to poor mental health for youths, like anxiety or depression. An example of a risk factor for young people is parents or caregivers who use substances and alcohol excessively. This increases the odds that their children may engage in these behaviors at a young age, and so working with parents and caregivers to change their behavior and attitudes toward alcohol and substances can help reduce this risk factor.
Increasing protective factors is another valuable strategy to build resilience in young people. Protective factors buffer against risk in challenging circumstances by either reducing the impact of risk or changing the way a child or young person responds to it. When young people feel connected and supported by trusted adults, they are healthier and more resilient against negative forces in their lives. We know from research that youths who can talk with their parents, or feel respected by a teacher or coach, are less likely to use substances or experience poor mental health.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and SJBPH would like to highlight the power of building resiliency of all the people we serve by making positive connections with each other. We live in an amazing community that demonstrates a commitment to positive youth development though so many wonderful and exciting opportunities, but not every young person has the same access to those opportunities based on factors such as geographic isolation or cost. It’s important to be aware of these conditions and make efforts to reach as many young people as possible by breaking down some of these barriers. By uniting people of different ages, backgrounds, professions and interests, we can make changes that are truly sustainable.
Young voices are some of our most underestimated and underused resources. Will you join us? To learn more about the Thriving Communities Program at San Juan Basin Public Health, please contact Jason Armstrong, Thriving Communities Program manager, at 335-2091 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is help available. Please contact Colorado Crisis Services at (844) 493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255
Jason Armstrong is the Thriving Communities Program manager at San Juan Basin Public Health.