As Summit County suicides double last year’s total, 1A seeks to fund mental health and suicide prevention
October 10, 2018
"We are a community that takes care of our own problems," Family & Intercultural Resource Center director Tamara Drangstveit said to the audience at a candidate and issue forum in Frisco last week. "We are not a community that stands by and does nothing when an 11-year-old girl commits suicide, like last spring."
While the specific details of the tragedy are never likely to be known to the public, a child committing suicide should shock even the most stoic Summit resident. The child's death was a stark reminder that the county has big cracks in its behavioral health system that too many people are falling through.
There have been 10 suicides in Summit so far this year, double last year's total and nearing the record-breaking 13 suicides in 2016. That year, Summit had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Mountain states like Colorado and Montana tend to have higher suicide rates, as populations in the West grow with mental health services lagging far behind.
Ballot initiative 1A seeks to inject $2 million a year for the next 10 years into mental health and suicide prevention. Betsy Casey, program manager for Summit-based health navigation nonprofit Building Hope, said the money would go toward a number of critical programs that Summit lacks, such as "intensive outpatient programs" or IOPs for adults and children.
IOPs provide transitional treatment that give more intensive service and care to people with substance abuse disorders, severe depression or persons at risk of self-harm. The programs are often done in a group therapy environment with supervision or therapy that follows the patient beyond crisis to a stage where they can independently find care with therapy or other means of maintaining mental health.
"We lack long-term formal mental health treatment up here," Casey said. "Patients with chronic concerns need a continuum of care between the two extremes of acute crisis and treatment and therapy, and it's monumental if we can create that continuum."
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Casey said the money would also provide reintegrative services for patients who received acute mental health or in-patient treatment elsewhere, or left the county for that care and came back because of a lack of services.
"We don't have any reintegrative services, or services for people who are stepping down from a higher level of care," Casey said. "Right now, if someone comes to the county and needs to find that same level of support, they're on their own and out of luck."
The money would also go toward paying for a "crisis response team" for the sheriff's office. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said his office would love to be able to have such a team for mental health crisis calls, as those calls now consume much in the way of law enforcement resources.
"Today, if we get a call about an acute mental health crisis, it might take a deputy out of rotation for three to five hours," FitzSimons said.
A crisis response team would couple up a law enforcement official with a mental health clinician and a medical professional when responding to mental health crises. Once a scene is secured and the safety threat is removed, the LEO can return to his or her duties while the medical folks take over, stabilizing the patient in acute care and guiding them to the resources and care they need.
"We're getting more and more of these mental health crisis calls every year," FitzSimons said. "The community would value tremendously from a crisis response team, so much so that I'd call it a 'community response team.'"
FitzSimons said that the sheriff's office portion of money from 1A would initially only be able to fund one team, but said that the community would quickly see the value of having one in rotation.
Casey said that the money would also go toward paying for mental health training for county service providers, community wellness programs, furthering the objective of putting a therapist in every single school, and mental health navigation services.
"These vital programs would, in my opinion, help our community continue to shift from a more reactive approach to a more proactive and preventative approach when it comes to mental health care," Casey said. "Implementing and adding these critical programs is incredibly meaningful for me because we are filling huge system gaps that have existed since I grew up here. We can't afford not to pass Measure 1A. The programs are too important and too needed."