Two locals — both of whom had a family member die by suicide — start a new youth mental health group in Summit County
The group’s first meeting is on Wednesday, May 25
Heather Gard and Amanda Merriman have crossed paths before. They knew of each other through their sons, both live on the same side of the county and both work in the health field. Though there’s a lot of similarities in their lives, the two are bonded by much more than happenstance: Each woman had a family member die by suicide, and now each of them are advocating for better mental health resources in the community.
With the support of Building Hope Summit County, the two women are launching a new advocacy group that will focus on increasing the availability of youth mental health resources in Summit County.
“There’s a lack of voice for suicide prevention in our community,” Gard said. “Suicide’s been stigmatized, etc., and we are one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Yet we really don’t have very much as far as services for suicide prevention, intervention or ‘post-vention.’ When it comes up at school district (meetings), at town halls, at all these community events, there’s really nobody there speaking out to say, ‘This is important’ — nobody being a squeaky wheel.”
Gard’s 16-year-old son, Toby, died by suicide in May 2020. Merriman’s biological father died by suicide about 22 years ago, and she said her son also struggled with mental health. Some of the first interactions the two had was when Merriman dropped off food for Gard’s family meal train after her son died.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, suicide rates were 30% higher than they were in 2000.
As they learned more about the community’s mental health resources, they felt a need to create a group that advocates on behalf of youth. Merriman said that there’s some services coming down the pipeline but that there’s space for this kind of group in the meantime. Part of the reason they are launching this coalition is because they noticed a gap in care for people under the age of 18.
If you’re struggling, help is available:
• Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255
• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911
“A lot of acute services that are available here currently are for adults only and you have to travel out of the county down at least 60 miles to get to services for some higher acute needs for our youth, and so as a parent, it just speaks to me,” Merriman said.
The group’s first meeting is less than a week away, and it’s open to parents, community members, community leaders, elected officials and school staff. The organizers are casting a wide net and were hesitant to limit the group to one type of person for fear of excluding someone who is just as passionate as them about access to mental health resources.
Currently, the group doesn’t have any set structure or agenda. It’s tentatively named the Suicide Community Coalition, though this could change once it finds its footing.
As for the group’s purpose, Merriman said, at first, they want to see who shows up to next week’s meeting and what changes those attendees would like to see in the community.
“There’s not a lot of room for the laymen to have an input, have a voice, have an impact, and really this is for laymen,” Gard added. “This is for survivors. It’s for attempt survivors. It’s for anybody who feels like we’re not doing enough to be able to actually put words into actions and make a difference.”
Gard said one of her short-term priorities is posting the crisis hotline in every public facility locally. Merriman said she’d like to see the group focus on building up resources within the schools too.
“I think looking at what the school board and different town policies are with relation to youth mental health and suicide prevention and shoring up any areas are lacking,” Merriman said of her priorities.
Though the plan of action for the group is yet to be determined, both women are set that it’s focus will be on youth. According to the CDC, youth and young adults ages 10–24 years account for 14% of all suicides. The organization’s website said that suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people.
“You hear it again and again and again nationally and locally how our youth are the ones that have suffered the most in this pandemic, and they’re mental health is spiraling out of control,” Gard said. “A lot of it has to do with social media but also pandemic and loss of connection and also just what we saw with my son’s death (which) is these kids don’t have the tools to intervene.”
Though Building Hope is not behind the coalition, the organization has expressed its support by offering financial help if needed and to lend its name to give the coalition additional credibility.
The group’s first meeting is at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, in the Miner’s Creek room at the Medical Office Building located at 360 Peak One Drive in Frisco. At the meeting, other housekeeping items, such as how often the group meets, will be determined by attendees.
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