ON AND BEYOND: Community partners team up to assess suicide risk in our schools

So many of us have had feelings of sadness and despair, but even with that experience it is still difficult for most of us to truly understand the deep and pervasive thoughts that can lead a person to consider ending their life. Suicide is a complex, multifaceted issue which is rarely the result of a single source of trauma or stress. Suicidal ideation is a serious issue and occurs in people of all ages. The youth in our region is one group that needs a range of help and support when it comes to suicidal thinking or ideation.

In Colorado, suicide was the leading cause of death among youth ages 10-18 between 2013 and 2017. The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey indicated that 31.4% of Colorado high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row during the previous 12 months. Furthermore, 17.0% reported considering suicide, and 7.0% reported making one or more suicide attempts in the previous twelve months.

The data are startling, but the encouraging news is that there are many effective suicide prevention programs that can bring hope, connectedness, and recovery to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Suicide Risk Assessment Team Research demonstrates that assessing for risk is an effective way to recognize and prevent harm. This informs the foundational belief of the West Central Colorado Suicide Risk Assessment Team (SRAT) that suicide deaths are preventable for youth who are assessed for risk and provided support and treatment from a community care coordination team.

The SRAT is led by The Center for Mental Health and the Montrose County School District (MCSD). Some additional partner agencies include: Hilltop Family Resource Center, Montrose County Department of Human Services, Northside Health Clinic, 7th Judicial District, The Montrose Police Department, and The Montrose County Sherriff’s Office.

In the fall of 2019, members of the Montrose community implemented the Salem-Keiser Suicide Risk Assessment Model for the assessment of suicide risk in our youth. The program has a two-tiered response to any concerns of suicidal ideation. The risk assessment remains simple for the student but provides valuable information needed to determine what level of support will be best to address the risk. If it is identified after the assessment that further evaluation is needed, the school will contact The Center for Mental Health through The Crisis and Support Line.

“MCSD is proud to be a part of a community effort aimed at identifying students who are dealing with suicidal ideation,” James Pavlich, director of Safety and Security for the Montrose County School District, states. He also notes that community collaboration is key to overall success: “This program works because it approaches risk mitigation as a community team.”

“The loss of any youth is a tragedy we want to prevent,” says Laura Byard, LPC, regional director for The Center for Mental Health. “Our community prioritizes the safety and welfare of our youth. We work to ensure they can recover and regain the hope they need to overcome the challenges and pain they are experiencing.”

Since being implemented in Montrose, the SRAT has expanded to provide support in Ridgway, Telluride, West End, Norwood, and Ouray School Districts for the 2020-2021 school year.

Susan Lacy, superintendent of the Ridgway School District, supports the program and the community connection it provides. “One of the benefits of this collaboration is it has established a chain of communication — a bridge between the district, The Center for Mental Health and our school-based counselors. That allows us to keep consistent in our protocol when it comes to assessing suicide risk and communicating about what treatments are being provided.”

Pavlich agrees and notes positive outcomes are becoming more apparent as time goes on: “This program has made our students, staff and community safer already and is reducing the stigma around suicide.”

The Center for Mental Health is proud to be part of this important community team. As the region’s community behavioral health center, our vision is to be the help you need when you need it.

If someone you care about needs help, call our free, 24/7 Crisis and Support Line at 970-252-6220 or walk in anytime to the Crisis Walk-in Center at 300 N. Cascade Avenue, Montrose.

How can I help? Suicide prevention really is a community effort. We can all help.

5 Actions Steps to Help Someone in Emotional Pain

  1. ASK: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking an at-risk
    individual if they are suicidal does NOT increase suicide or suicidal thoughts.
  2. KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. You can
    ask the at-risk individual if they have a plan. Removing or disabling lethal means can make a big difference.
  3. BE THERE: Create a safe space with your presence and listen carefully to what the person is thinking and feeling.
    Acknowledge feelings without judgement and try to understand underlying emotional struggles. Research tells us that
    acknowledging suicide can decrease suicidal thoughts.
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT: You can help make a connection to a suicide lifeline or with a trusted individual (family member,
    spiritual advisor, or mental health professional).

    1. The Center for Mental Health Crisis Walk-in Center: 970-252-6220 | 300 N. Cascade Avenue, Montrose
    2. Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 | Text “TALK” to 38255
    3. If there is imminent risk for suicidal death, call 911.
    4. Safe2Tell app or call 1-877-542-7233
  5. STAY CONNECTED: Make space and time for ongoing conversations after an emotional crisis. It can make a
Montrose Daily Press
Contributed by Nya Greenstone, MSW, LSW, The Center for Mental Health
Montrose Daily Press | March 27, 2021
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