Be an advocate for youth in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month

May 10, 2022

Young people’s mental health is a critical aspect of their overall health and well-being. The Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup, convened by El Paso County Public Health, partners with many community allies, working to help people recognize and address youth mental health concerns, increase help-seeking behaviors among youth, de-stigmatize mental illness, and build the framework for supporting those needs. During National Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Public Health wants to emphasize the ways everyone can be an advocate for strong mental health for our county’s youth. 

Youth mental health and suicide prevention has been a long-standing top priority for Public Health. In 2015, Public Health began convening the Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup, a unique collaborative that includes more than 90 participants, including parents, school representatives, faith community representatives, mental health and crisis intervention professionals, and members of youth-centered nonprofits. At monthly meetings, the workgroup breaks out into smaller subgroups to work on specific strategies to help youth. For instance: 

  • The parent subgroup released “Protecting Youth from Suicide: Written by Local Parents for All Parents,” a guide for supporting and connecting with youth, and a resource for seeking help, especially to prevent suicide.  
  • The school-based subgroup launched a virtual behavioral health learning series for parents during the 2021-2022 school year. 
  • The faith-based subgroup trained 300 youth pastors and faith community leaders in Youth Mental Health First Aid, and a pilot program is allowing those faith leaders to refer youth to professional counseling services and removing financial barriers to help. 

Mental Health First Aid — which is likened to “CPR for mental health” — is available to all adults who work with youth to learn more about mental illness and what signs to pay attention to. The class includes a 5-step action plan for how to help youth in both crisis and non-crisis situations. In addition, several schools across the county are implementing a teen version specifically for high school students to help youth learn how to have supportive conversations with their friends and connect them to trusted adults. Just as with a medical emergency, knowing the steps to take and having a chance to practice intervening in a crisis can greatly increase the likelihood of a positive outcome in a real emergency. If you’d like to learn more about Mental Health First Aid, click here.  

There are also a variety of other local training opportunities available, such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR), which can be accessed on this community calendar.  

No matter your background, El Paso County Public Health encourages trusted adults and youth throughout our community to remember to talk with youth and their peers about their feelings, listen for signs of distress and seek help immediately if someone may be experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind: 

What are the warning signs of a potential mental illness? 

When looking for warning signs related to a potential mental illness, you want to notice how and if the signs listed below might be impacting a youth's ability to connect with others and participate in their communities. Is this youth now struggling in school, social settings and/or daily activities, as a result of some of the changes seen?  

  • Sleeping too little or too much 
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating 
  • Lack of emotional response 
  • Withdrawing from friends, family members and social activities 
  • Lack of inhibition 

If you are concerned, starting a conversation with the youth is important.  

What are the warning signs of suicide? 

If you are concerned about someone, ask yourself the following questions. Have they shown or shared any of the following: 

  1. Talking about wanting to die, be dead, or about suicide, or are they cutting or burning themselves? 
  1. Feeling like things may never get better, seeming like they are in terrible emotional pain (like something is wrong deep inside but they can't make it go away), or are they struggling to deal with a big loss in their life? 
  1. Or is your gut telling you to be worried because they have withdrawn from everyone and everything, have become more anxious or on edge, seem unusually angry, or just don't seem like their typical self to you? 

How can you respond? 

If you notice any of these warning signs in anyone, you can help! 

  • Ask if they are okay or if they are having thoughts about suicide. It is okay to ask them directly if they are having thoughts about suicide. 
  • Express your concern about what you are observing in their behavior. 
  • Listen closely and do not judge. 
  • Reflect what they share and let them know they have been heard. 
  • Tell them they are not alone. 
  • Let them know there are resources available that can help. 
  • If you or they are concerned, guide them to additional professional help. Call 9-1-1 if there is an immediate life-threatening emergency. For crisis services, call 1-844-493-8255, or text "TALK" to 38255. 
  • Want more information? Click here to learn more about Responding to Behavioral Health Concerns. 

Get involved  

Suicide prevention is everyone's business, and everyone is welcome at the table for the Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup. 

  • No experience is necessary. 
  • Members are asked to attend meetings, share ideas, and act in an area that meets their interests. 
  • Members will benefit from free training and workshops, networking, and alignment with other community resources.  

For more information on the Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup or to get involved, click here.