Summit County community members dedicate September to suicide prevention and awareness

A mural on the Performing Arts Center in Silverthorne conveys a message of love, hope and community during a difficult time.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

FRISCO — In a year when isolation has become the norm, Summit County community members have put special attention on Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. 

So far in 2020, seven people have died by suicide in Summit County, three more than in all of 2019 when four people died by suicide, according to Summit County Coroner Regan Wood. All this years’ suicides occurred since the county went into lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

There’s no doubt that the heightened anxiety, isolation and depression have contributed to people’s struggles with mental health, officials say.

“Dealing with the collective trauma of a global pandemic and the economic and social and emotional impacts of all that is going on and all that we’ve been living with for six months can just be too much for people,” said Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

24-hour crisis help

• Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call or text 988
• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911

McAtamney said it can be difficult to recognize when a person is suicidal, especially during the pandemic.

“One of the big (signs of depression) is changing in appearance,” she said. “We’re not together right now and our standards, quite frankly, have lowered.”

Because it can be hard to recognize someone who is withdrawing during a time when people are mandated to be withdrawn, it’s more important than ever for people to check in on their loved ones and have an open dialogue about mental health, McAtamney said.

“They’re usually waiting for a sign that someone is noticing how much pain they’re in,” she said. “When you give people that opportunity and ask how they are … often it’s a huge relief.”

However, it’s not just up to loved ones to open the dialogue. Building Hope and other organizations in the community have a slew of resources for people struggling with mental health. 

Stephanie Keister, spokeswoman for Mind Springs Health, said that everyone should have the Colorado Crisis number, 1-844-493-8255, saved in their phone.

“That’s manned 24/7 and that really is the best place to go to get immediate help,” Keister said. 

Colorado Crisis Services works with Building Hope to create a more localized approach for people in Summit County, McAtamney said. Whenever a person calls the line, they are referred to local services.

People who are not in a crisis situation have a number of resources available. For people who are struggling with their mental health, the first step would be to contact Building Hope. 

Building Hope offers a free mental health screening on its website,

“You can screen for about 17 common mental health challenges,” McAtamney said. “Take that screening tool and that will give you a direction on where your mental health is.”

Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope, discusses mental health care in Summit County on Sept. 17, 2019.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

The nonprofit also has a database of counsellors and therapists in the area. If people are unsure about what to do, they can always start by calling Building Hope, McAtamney said.

In addition to Building Hope’s resources, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center has a team of mental health navigators, who can help people through the process of setting up an appointment with a therapist and navigating insurance options.

“It’s a social worker, who will help do goal settings, but also make sure you connect with all the services to help you understand what all the options are,” McAtamney said. 

Building Hope also has programs for people who want to help support the community. The nonprofit hosts weekly connectedness events and is in the process of creating an “informal peer program,” McAtamney said. 

“You really learn how to hold space with people, how to talk about these hard issues, how to share things and how to be there for people,” she said of the program. 

People who are interested in the peer program can email

Another way to become a support for people who are struggling is through Mental Health First Aid Colorado. The program offers classes on how to recognize the signs of depression, what to do in an emergency and where to get help. 

“It’s a training program that anyone in Colorado can go to, you don’t have to be a mental health professional,” Keister said. “We offer it to police departments, we offer it to schools, church groups, individuals, anyone who wants to go.”

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