NewsCovering Colorado


A new community health report shows the leading health issues in El Paso County

Posted at 6:46 PM, May 16, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Suicide, drug overdose, access to health care, and housing stability are the leading health issues in El Paso County. That is according to the El Paso County 2023 Community Health Assessment, which was released this week.

The health department conducts a report every five years looking at those key health needs and issues in the county.

Rubba Ahram is the Public Health Planner at El Paso County Public Health. She said from there, they make a plan to find solutions for improving the community's health.

In a 92 page report, El Paso County Public Health outlines those four major issues in the county. She said the county has a shortage of mental health providers.

“What we have identified is... you may have insurance that does not guarantee access,” Ahram said.

That fact contributes to high rates of untreated mental health conditions.

“Mental health, access to services has been an issue that's been growing within our county,” Ahram said.

Another major health issue is fentanyl. This report said overdose deaths in Colorado involving fentanyl rose from 49 in 2016 to 920 and 2022. In El Paso County, overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased from 22 in 2019, to 96 and 2022.

A major issue facing children is suicide. The health department report said from 2020 to 2022 suicide was the leading cause of death among children ages 11 to 17. Suicide was also the second leading cause of death among young adults ages 18 to 24.

“Suicide is a major issue that our county has been facing,” Ahram said.

The organization heartbeat in Colorado Springs provide support groups for families who have lost a loved one to suicide.

“So that we can let the community know and let the art let our survivors know that they're not alone,” Ahram said.

The facilitator of heartbeat, Betty Van Thournout, said since the start of the year, the organization has had more people attend both in person and zoom support groups.

“So our zoom group, which normally runs about 10 to 12, is now running about 20 to 25,” Van Thournout said.

She says the in-person sessions through Heartbeat have doubled from 15 to around 30 people looking for support.

News5 asked Van Thournout why suicide is so prevalent.

“I wish I had an answer for that,” Van Thournout said.

"I think that these teenagers have put this in their tool belt as being, well, if my life doesn't work out the way I think it should be, or I'm going through a rough time, I'm just going to take my life. And I think we need to find a way to pull that out of their tool belt and give them a better tool,” Van Thournout said in her opinion.

Van Thournout said there are school professionals that are working very hard to help students, and she mostly focuses on postvention.

“Postvention is prevention, because so many of us completely understand that. Once we've lost the pain that they had, once they've taken their life, then dumped transfers down to us... We feel that that's too much pain to endure, and then we start to become suicidal or start thinking of ways to take our lives,” Van Thournout said.

One focus of the Public Health Department moving forward is suicide prevention. In the report, they listed prevention measures such as creating a protective environment and reducing harm and lessen future risk.

“First and foremost, frontline. Make sure that your young ones in your home do not have access to anything lethal. Alcohol, drugs, firearms,” Van Thournout said.

She said parents, peers and friends need to ask the hard questions.

“Are you thinking about taking your life? Do you have a plan? Let's talk about this,” Van Thournout said.

She said her organization, Heartbeat, is here for support.

“It starts with us. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, and you feel alone and haven't talked to anybody about this, reach out. We're here to help. We're here to walk alongside the professionals,” Van Thournout said.

Heartbeat is expanding, and they now have a support group in Cañon City. Van Thournout said people who lost a child, parent, spouse, friend, or any loved one to suicide is welcome to reach out to her for support.

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