Roughly once every other day, a person dies of suicide in El Paso County.

The county has seen more suicides from 2004 through 2017 than any other Colorado county, and the numbers aren’t even close.

Suicides routinely account for more deaths every year in Colorado Springs than automotive crashes, diabetes, breast cancer and homicide.

It’s worse for young people. Suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10-18 in Colorado in 2017.

In El Paso County, death by suicide nearly doubled for those 24 and under between 2007 and 2017, going from 5.5 per 100,000 people in that age group, or 14 deaths, to 11.7 per 100,000, or 30 deaths, according to state data.

Crisis in Colorado: Stories of how Colorado's mental health care system has failed those who need it most

That means about 1 in 6 suicides in Colorado between 2007 and 2017 by residents age 24 and younger took place in El Paso County.

Why is suicide such an acute problem here? What can we as a community, as parents, as neighbors and teachers and friends do to help? What are the signs that someone is in crisis, and what resources are available?

As part of our yearlong investigative series on the crisis in mental health care in Colorado, The Gazette and KKTV will co-host a Community Conversation on Wednesday, Aug. 21 on suicide prevention.

Click here to ask our panelists a question before the forum.

The forum, sponsored by UCHealth and Ent Credit Union and moderated by KKTV anchor Don Ward, will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Studio Bee in the Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.

Six experts will talk through a range of strategies for suicide prevention, with a focus on public health solutions and concrete steps we can take as individuals and as a community to turn back this scourge.

The panelists will answer questions from the audience and from Gazette readers.

The panelists are:

• El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy John Hammond.

• Lori Jarvis-Steinwert, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness/Colorado Springs.

• Velda Baker, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services faith community nurse.

• Bob McLaughlin, chief operating officer of Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center.

• Mark A. Mayfield, Ph.D., LPC, a suicide survivor and founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers.

• Carolena Guiral Steen, assistant superintendent, Cheyenne Mountain School District.

Public health experts say information is the best tool to fight the bewildering conditions that lead to suicide.

“That’s the hardest thing for parents. You don’t know what’s going on or what to do or what will happen,” said Sarah Busby, a Falcon High School teacher. Her 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, died by suicide.

The good news is that we recognize we have a problem. El Paso County Public Health convenes a work group of nearly 60 community partners to address system, community, family and personal risk factors that can lead to suicide.

Among the goals: increasing communication among agencies that serve children, reducing the stigma of behavioral health conditions to increase help-seeking by children, and improving mental health screenings throughout the health care system to identify at-risk kids better and get them into treatment.

“The mental health field needs to shift some of its focus to the preventive framework, just like health care has,” said Jarrod Hindman, who oversees the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s suicide prevention efforts.

“Obesity prevention, heart disease prevention, primary care is so hyperfocused — in a good way — on what are the things you could do now to prevent negative outcomes later. We haven’t done that as much in the mental health field.”

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