COLORADO SPRINGS — New research from the Centers for Disease Control shows suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans between 10 and 24 years old.
The situation is even worse for the state of Colorado. A United Health Foundation study published in September showed the rate of teen suicide is rising fastest in Colorado, up 58 percent since 2016.
But El Paso County Public Health officials said there is reason to be optimistic locally, as a recently launched task force is making an impact.
After a dramatic spike in the number of teen suicides in 2015, county health officials didn't treat the news as a statistical anomaly. Meghan Haynes, teen suicide prevention planner with the El Paso County Public Health Department, said her team treated it like a public health crisis.
"We knew that we really had a problem starting in 2015," Haynes said. "We know everybody's doing something around suicide prevention, and we're much more effective when we're working together and coordinated in those efforts."
In response, the county launched the Youth Suicide Prevention Work Group in July 2016. It brings together 90 community partners — like law enforcement, schools and churches — to address the issue with a unified front.
Kelsey Leva, youth health and development planner, said it's making an impact.
"We feel like we're headed in the right direction. You know, we've really worked together, and in the last year, we've seen a 47 percent decrease in youth suicide. And we're really proud of that, and we want to keep the pressure on," Leva said.
Still, they know there's more work to be done. Bullying extends beyond school grounds nowadays, as teens are plugged into their cell phones and social media.
A big component of the program is matching the appropriate resource with the right call. For example, connecting children with counseling versus a mental health-style hold from law enforcement.
"That's a huge piece of that help-seeking behavior we want to see and connecting people with what they need in a time of crisis," Leva said.
The work group still welcomes volunteers to join and add their perspective. If you're interested, visit the El Paso County Public Health website for more information.