SALIDA — In the last three years, the teen suicide rate in Colorado has jumped up by 58%, according to the United Health Foundation. The epidemic is now responsible for one in five adolescent deaths in our state.
To help combat this growing problem, Chaffee County is offering free mental health support to any of its teens who are struggling with mental health issues.
“We work with the youth in [our schools] and in the community,” said Samantha Barron, program manager for Family and Youth Initiatives in Chaffee County.
A recent report from the United Health Foundation revealed half of young people ages 3 to 17 aren’t getting proper mental health counseling in Colorado.
That sort of statistic struck a nerve with plenty of people, including a group of high school students from Salida known as the ‘Extraordinary Teens Council’ (ETC).
“Every kid in ETC (Extraordinary Teens Council) was saying, ‘This is something we really need to change in our community! How do we get youth mental health access in our community right away!?’” Barron said.
The students from ETC teamed up with Family and Youth Initiatives and brought their concerns to Solvista Health, the local community health center in Salida. Solvista was more than happy to help out.
“We were thrilled!” explained Kelsey McNeill, program supervisor for Child and Family Services at Sol Vista Health. “It was so neat to have youth being pro-active”.
Ultimately, the students and Solvista Health decided to create FREE mental health vouchers and offer two of them a piece to kids 12 and older in Chaffee County.
“We [can] meet with them here in the office, or in the community, at school, wherever they’re most comfortable. We can also talk with them over the phone,” said McNeill.
Already, Chaffee County has seen positive results. About 40 vouchers have been used since the program was created. Each voucher ultimately saves each teen a couple hundred dollars in counseling.
They’re distributed throughout the community in teen-populated areas.
“So schools, the arcade, libraries,” McNeill explained.
Solvista Health believes Chaffee County is the only county in America with a program like this.
“The kids were the ones who found the solution,” said Barron. “It wasn’t the adults who figured it out, it was the kids who did”.