Colorado Springs Teen Suicides Highlight Gap in Mental Health Services

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Colorado Springs is in the midst of a teen suicide cluster.

That should be more than enough to scare adults into action to improve adolescent mental health care in Colorado — and there is much room for improvement.

First The Gazette and then Newsweek identified the trend of teens taking their own lives in a horrifying contagion of death that has left 29 kids dead in two years, many from the same few schools.

No one is certain what exactly drives rashes of suicides like this, but one thing is certain — data shows that children and adults are much less likely to attempt suicide if they have access to mental health care.

Let me pause here to say that if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there is help available and you’re not alone. Anyone can call 844-493-TALK (8255) or text “TALK” to 38255. These call lines are connected to the state’s 24/7 crisis walk-in centers and can dispatch mobile crisis services too. Teachers, parents and school counselors will drop everything to help you; just ask.

Suicide was the No. 1 killer of kids in Colorado between the ages of 10 and 17 from 2010 to 2014, according to the Child Fatality Prevention System. Suicide killed more kids than car accidents during those four years.

There are clear gaps in services in the state: not enough mental health providers in schools, a shortage of pediatric psychiatrists and psychologists, an inability to bill insurance for screening or preventative services, and a shortage of in-patient hospital beds.

Doyle Forrestal, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Health Council, said she hears from school leaders that they need care providers in the building who can screen and treat mental illness.

Colorado Springs isn’t alone in its suffering. Mesa County is also afflicted with a teen suicide rate that is higher than the rest of the state and the country. The overall suicide rate in Mesa County is almost twice the national average. The Western Slope is in desperate need of resources to address adolescent mental health issues and deserves special attention.

Preventing suicide isn’t the only goal of improved mental health care. Early detection of mental health issues can go a long way to preventing children from one day being adults struggling with mental health.