Colorado’s youth suicide rates are rising. A new effort seeks to change that.

Fueled by a $250,000 At&T grant, four nonprofits working with youth are doubling down on mental health outreach

Aimee Resnick, Colorado Youth Advisory Council member, speaks to a group gathered for the Believe Denver Initiative on Sept. 17. (Photo by Forest Wilson)
Aimee Resnick, Colorado Youth Advisory Council member, speaks to a group gathered for the Believe Denver Initiative on Sept. 17. (Photo by Forest Wilson)

On Tuesday morning, in a fourth floor conference room of History Colorado in downtown Denver, 14-year-old Aimee Resnick stood behind a lectern looking out at a room full of adults. Sunlight streamed in from windows as Resnick began to speak, her voice strong, but restrained.

“I was 12 when I made my first active suicide plan,” she began.

She spoke of bullying, of being told by her peers that no one would ever love her because she is bisexual, of making another plan a year later, this one with a farewell note. 

“I left the tab open on my computer,” she said, “So my parents knew why I would have left them.”

In the space of three minutes, she brought into view the pain many young people face today. 

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Colorado youth between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Teens ages 15-19 in Colorado are almost twice as likely to take their own lives as the national average, at 20.4 per 100,000 compared to 10.5 per 100,000. That rate rose more than 58 percent between 2016 and this year, according to a new report by the United Health Foundation.

Why Colorado’s suicide rate is so high is not easy to pinpoint. Advocates point to social media pressures, isolation, bullying, substance abuse, inadequate mental health resources and LGBT discrimination. 

Resnick told her story as part of the launch of the Believe Denver Initiative, a project created by AT&T, which is contributing a total of $250,000 to four nonprofits that work with youth: The Trevor Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, City Year Denver, an Americorps member, and One Colorado. The company is also encouraging its employees to volunteer with the organizations. 

The Trevor Project and One Colorado focus specifically on members of the LGBT community and LGBT youth are at an even greater risk of suicide. In an interview with The Colorado Independent Daniel Ramos, One Colorado’s executive director and representative at the forum, brought up a 2016 report from the Centers on Disease Control that found LGBT high school students were five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. 

“We know some of our most vulnerable are LGBT young people, and so if we can build support systems for our most vulnerable, we can improve outcomes for everyone,” Ramos said. 

The Trevor project’s director of public training, Chris Bright, said the organization served 1,500 LGBT youth in crisis in Colorado in 2018. But by The Trevor Project’s calculations, he said, that is only 7% of LGBT youth who experienced a crisis. 

“There’s no one approach that is going to solve the problem of suicide,” Bright said. “Different approaches work in different communities.”

 

Related: A silent sorrow: How a 12-year-old’s death launched a suicide-prevention campaign in Eagle County

 

One thing people can do, Bright said, is be an accepting adult. According to research by The Trevor Project, having one accepting person in an LGBT youth’s life, reduces their risk for a suicide attempt by 40%. 

Dave Ryan, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, said that many young people are feeling hopeless and isolated. They might see friends around them struggle with suicidal thoughts and actions, he said, and that might plant the notion that suicide is an option.

“We have to be there to enable them to talk about this,” Ryan said. “What is this about, why this is not a good choice.” 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado pairs at-risk youth with mentors outside of the classroom and City Year Denver targets children inside their schools, providing service workers to support students academically and emotionally. Morgan Oliver, a City Year worker who spoke during the forum, said the children she sees are struggling — they are dealing with emotional problems and personal issues. 

“Just being in proximity to them and knowing that they have listening ears and helping hands is really the best support that we can give them,” Oliver said. 

Denver’s Deputy Mayor Allegra “Happy” Haynes closed the forum, saying she lost a close friend to suicide at a young age. That loss is a pain she still carries today, she said. Haynes emphasized some of the steps Denver is taking, including a plan to implement the Caring for Denver ballot initiative, which will create a nonprofit that will fund mental health services to the tune of more than $35 million per year.

“There is so much to do, but there is hope in the work all of you are doing,” Haynes said. 

Resnick told the audience that as she wrote out her second suicide plan, she opened another tab on her computer and reached out to a counselor from The Trevor Project. The counselor called police and an officer came to her home and intervened. She said she is doing better now and has become an advocate for mental health and serves on the Colorado Youth Advisory Council to the Legislature. In an interview after the forum, she said she would like to see the legislature do more to address mental health with more young people talking to lawmakers about their experiences. 

 

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

En Español
1-888-628-9454

Deaf and Hard of Hearing
1-800-799-4889

or the Crisis Text Line
by texting 741741

 

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