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Pueblo coalition forms to prevent teen suicides

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jan 24, 2019

PUEBLO – Health officials in Pueblo are putting a new emphasis on suicide prevention this year. A coalition is forming in response to a study recently released by the Attorney General’s Office.

That qualitative study reviewed more than a decade worth of data from and conducted dozens of stakeholder interviews in El Paso, La Plata, Mesa and Pueblo Counties.

All four counties have experienced higher than average suicide rates among young people. In Pueblo, the data show the youngest age group of people between 10 and 18 years old are especially vulnerable with a suicide rate that is nearly double the state average during the same time period.

The report authors identify some common risk factors shared by all four communities including cyberbullying on social media, substance abuse and fear and anxiety about failure.

Colton DeWitt, a health promotion specialist at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, said economic and cultural factors in Pueblo appear to have a greater influence on suicide risk factors than in other communities.

“In terms of Pueblo, we had specifically a lot higher rates of economic instability and poverty,” DeWitt said.

Those economic troubles, in turn, create barriers to mental health care like a lack of transportation to doctors appointments or an inability to pay. The report authors also noted a deep-rooted culture of secrecy, long-standing stigmas against talking about suicide, and a general lack of knowledge about how to access resources.

DeWitt is optimistic that Suicide Prevent Coalition can address these Pueblo-specific challenges and improve outcomes.

“This suicide coalition is not tied to any specific grant that can run out, and that was one of the big barriers that we saw that these grants could run out and these efforts would no longer exist,” he said.

A good place to start is to encourage young people who are in crisis to seek mental health care and to not be afraid to talk about it.

“Suicide and mental health are not issues that should be silent. We should be talking about them openly and honestly.”

The report also highlights some strengths shown in Pueblo including a strong sense of community pride and strong family connections. DeWitt believes the coalition partners can work with those tools as they build their strategy to prevent youth suicide in the future.