Suicide prevention work tends to be ‘below the water line’

Centennial prevention program manager says much of her work is with young people and adults don’t see it

By Jeff Rice, Sterling Journal-Advocate

“We’re building below the water line.” That’s how Maranda Miller described ongoing efforts at suicide prevention by the Centennial Mental Health Center. Miller, who is the prevention services program manager, said during the annual Pro 15 Fall Conference October 13 in Yuma. Pro 15 is an advocacy organization for 15 counties in northeast Colorado.

Much of Centennial’s suicide prevention work is being done with younger people in cooperation with schools, which most adults don’t see. Miller likened Centennial’s work to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. She said that after months of construction work, there still was no bridge and locals wondered what was going on. Officials explained that before the bridge could go up, secure footings had to be poured, and all of that work was “below the water line.”

Miller told the group that suicide rates went down across Colorado before and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but started edging up again this year. “We saw suicide rates drop over 2018 to 2020, but they’re back up to about 14 per 1,000 population,” Miller said. “Colorado now has the sixth highest rate in the nation with 1,307 in the past fiscal year.”

Centennial remains focused on prevention. Miller said the work is “population focused,” and has four primary components: Students and staff in the schools; firearms dealers, ranges and law enforcement; farmers, ranchers and “ag-adjunct” businesses; and the healthcare sector.

Centennial’s prevention programs reached 97 schools in 36 districts across the center’s 10 counties. She said the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado is proposing a bill for the 2023 legislative session that would require student identification cards to include state and national crisis hotlines and, where applicable, a local campus hotline.

One Colorado lawmaker who has been active in promoting behavioral health legislation during his tenure was honored during the afternoon session. Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, was named the 2022 Behavioral Health Champion for his work in the statehouse. Edie Sonn, Director of External Affairs for the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, and Elizabeth Hickman, recently retired executive director of Centennial Mental Health, presented the award.

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