Building a healthier community by promoting mental health

By Claire Ninde
Special to The SUN
In southwest Colorado, we count ourselves fortunate to call this beautiful place our home. Our small communities are part of a vital ecosystem that allows us to thrive in our daily lives and connect with each other and the land.
San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) recognizes that building resiliency through strong connections creates healthier residents and healthier communities. These connections act as part of local suicide prevention. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and SJBPH would like to highlight the power of creating connections to support good mental health.
Mental health is a state of balance in our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Positive mental health allows us to feel good about life, supporting our ability to participate in daily activities and accomplish our goals. Challenges to our mental health can include varying levels of stress, anxiety and trauma, with some individuals experiencing significant mental illness.
Whether an individual is experiencing stress from a tough day at work or suffering from severe ongoing depression and despair, evidence suggests that connection with others can help. While most of us are not professional therapists trained to address mental health conditions, we are all able to reach out to someone who is struggling. This can even include strangers.
As part of a larger collaborative suicide prevention effort with numerous other partners in the region, SJBPH is promoting a statewide mental health campaign called Let’s Talk, aimed at making mental health conversations easier. The way we think about mental health affects how comfortable we are talking about it and how we respond when someone else needs support.
The Let’s Talk campaign provides simple guidance on how to start conversations about mental health and how to share important resources with those who need additional help. The campaign provides several tools including videos, posters and other materials that can be used to build awareness of these simple steps. For more information, check out the website at LetsTalkCO.org.
Even without guidance from something like the Let’s Talk campaign, all of us can make meaningful connections. This might include checking in with an elderly neighbor who is often alone, reaching out to a single mom who works two jobs and struggles to find time for her children, or a conversation with a pre-teen who feels like an outsider at school, but loves to discuss Harry Potter books with anyone willing to listen.
Evidence shows that connection between adolescents and their parents or families has been associated with decreased suicidal behaviors. Building resilience in youth through meaningful connections with family and other trusted adults promotes coping skills, problem-solving skills, general life satisfaction, good self-esteem and a sense of purpose.
The Let’s Talk campaign is just one aspect of the collaborative work taking place in local communities by partners that represent a wide range of individuals and organizations. Some of these include local school districts, communities of faith, youth-focused organizations, mental health organizations and practitioners, families, caring individuals and many others.
This years-long collaborative effort has resulted in a process to identify and build on strengths that exist in our region that create more resilient communities and to address gaps that create challenges in this process. This work, co-led by the Thriving Communities Program at SJBPH, has created a framework with a central steering committee and additional work groups to address needs such as building suicide prevention awareness, providing suicide prevention training, drafting a community-wide plan to respond when suicides occur, and ensuring that entities and organizations are working closely with each other when providing services to people experiencing mental health crises.
The Archuleta County Suicide Prevention Collaborative has identified three priority goal areas: increase awareness of suicide and local suicide prevention efforts; increase community resources and supports available for those at risk for suicide and for those are suicide loss survivors; and develop and promote appropriate suicide intervention, peer support and training opportunities for all individuals in Archuleta County.
This group meets regularly on the fourth Friday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon at the Archuleta Integrated Healthcare Clinic.
This work is not a program to be implemented, but an innovative way to approach public health problems, demonstrating that working together helps us all be more effective than we would be working alone.
A concept that lies at the foundation of the suicide prevention and mental health promotion work that is occurring throughout our region is that connection with a caring individual can change a life.
Join with SJBPH and its partners this month in acknowledging that we all have a role to play in suicide prevention by creating meaningful connections with friends, family members, classmates, co-workers and even strangers.
For more suicide prevention information, visit the agency’s website at sjbpublichealth.org/suicideprevention and LetsTalkCO.org to learn more about how to start a conversation about mental health.

This story was posted on September 20, 2019.