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Boulder’s Mental Health Partners plans suicide prevention campaign for fall

July 7, 2018 | By Madeline St. Amour

A community mental health center is planning a program to raise awareness about suicide prevention following a number of public suicides in the area and a report that the number of suicides across Colorado is at an all-time high.

Mental Health Partners, a nonprofit that serves Boulder and Broomfield counties, is starting the campaign with the Boulder Skyline Traverse Challenge on Aug. 25. Trail runners, which so far include Bill Briggs and nonprofit staff Samantha Mangum and Christine Dykema,hope to raise $20,000 through the challenge.

The money will go toward part of the staff training to ensure they can, in turn, train the community on suicide prevention as well as a speaker series and suicide awareness campaign that will last through next August, according to Kristina Shaw, marketing director for Mental Health Partners.

“(Suicide is) just a big concern that comes up when we’re out in community,” Shaw said. “We really listen to what the concerns are and what people need, and it seems like the need is higher than ever.”

A record number of people in Colorado — 1,156 — died by suicide in 2016, according to a report from the Colorado Health Institute. The state is ninth in the nation for deaths by suicide, and the report found it was the leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24 in the state that year.

Boulder and Broomfield counties both have a suicide rate of 16.3 per 100,000 residents. Mesa County has the highest rate in the state at 34.7 deaths by suicide per 100,000 residents, and a number of counties in the northeastern part of the state had the lowest rates at 11.5 deaths by suicide per 100,000 residents.

Mental Health Partners has started the work internally with a “Zero Suicide” initiative among all staff members, Shaw said. Both clinical and administrative staff are receiving training on the signs of suicidal ideation, creating safe plans and improving support systems.

“We believe that it’s a priority to start at home,” she said.

Mental Health Partners also will start to offer SafeTalk training in addition to its other programs in the fall. SafeTalk provides suicide awareness training in a half day, which will make it more accessible than some of the longer trainings currently available, Shaw said.

The increase in trained staff will let the nonprofit reinvest in the community, according to Shaw, as the nonprofit currently has one staff member dedicated to training who works part-time.

Mental Health Partners also will hold a four-part lecture series in the fall focused on prevention among teens and youth, she said, and use part of the money to distribute educational materials about suicide awareness.

Natalie Trombly, program manager for Boulder outpatient services, believes the awareness campaign will help by creating community conversations and weakening the stigma around suicide.

“The idea is to get everybody comfortable with (talking about) it,” Trombly said.

When talking with someone about suicide, that’s an important factor, she said. The more direct the question, the better. The more uncomfortable someone seems, the less likely the person dealing with suicidal thoughts is to be open about what they’re going through.

“Don’t say, ‘You’re not saying you’re thinking of killing yourself, are you?'” Trombly said, because the question implies they should say no. “If you’re in doubt, don’t wait — ask the person the question. If the person’s reluctant, be persistent.”

Trombly also said that people should take certain phrases, sometimes used in a joking way, seriously. For example, if someone jokingly says, “I wish I were dead,” that should be seen as serious.

“That’s how some people are attempting to communicate,” she said.

Mental Health Partners has a 24-hour crisis center in Boulder, outpatient locations in Longmont, Lafayette and Broomfield, and a number of programs for those suffering with mental health issues, substance abuse or trauma.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com

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