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Health & Prevention Report: New organization in Mancos aims to help locals navigate mental health resources

Tom Yoder

Colorado has the sixth highest suicide death rate in the nation, according to the most recent data from the CDC. But the process of finding resources to improve your mental wellness is complicated and often stigmatized. In this week’s health and prevention report, KSJD’s Tay Glass looks at Mancos United, an up-and-coming nonprofit that wants to make the process of finding help a bit more streamlined.

Todd Cordrey is the Superintendent of the Mancos School District. He started as superintendent this past summer and something happened in July that made it clear to him that awareness and access to mental health services in Mancos was important.

“I was preparing for the school year and then tragedy struck,” says Cordrey. “One of our students died from suicide. And this followed a tragedy from last year where we had another student that died from suicide. And my board came to me and they said, Todd, we've got to really do something about our community. There's something missing.”

Cordrey realized that, despite having 40 or so nonprofits in the area, there was a lack of awareness and navigating the intricate web of community health services was complicated.

That’s why Cordrey and other community leaders formed Mancos United. The non-profit-to-be held its first board meeting on Tuesday.

“And so, now over the next five to eight months, we're going to stand up a nonprofit that can really stand the test of time for the benefit of the four corners area,” says Cordrey.

The goal for Mancos United, once it’s up and running, is to be a central hub that will coordinate access to other nonprofits in the area. The proposed starting place for Mancos United? Cordrey’s own school system.

“As a school district, we want everyone to be healthy, happy and successful,” says Cordery. “Now, we can't do that alone. And so we're inviting the nonprofits into our buildings to do the work that we simply cannot do.”

Kristi Arellano works for the Colorado Health Institute, a research organization that pointed out an interesting trend; Suicide is a leading cause of death in mountain west states like Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

The rate is far higher than most other places in the country. Arellano attributes that, in part, to the stigma associated with talking about your mental health.

“There's still that sort of cowboy Western, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps mentality,” says Arellano.

The Colorado Health Institute found a number of statistically significant trends: Firearms, for example, were involved in more rural suicide deaths. Alcohol and drug use are risk factors, especially for young people.

The institute also noted an increase in the suicide rate among kids ages 15 to 18, which is due to a number of factors:

“The ongoing pandemic and economic downturn, what's happening in schools right now, social media… young people have a lot of pressure, and there's a lot on their minds,” says Arellano.

Mancos United’s goal to have a unified nonprofit system made a lot of sense to Arellano. She acknowledged that the system has a lot of moving parts and pieces.

“It can be very easy for people to simply not know where to start,” says Arellano. “So having somebody who can raise awareness and almost serve as a navigator, I think, can only help.”

Vincent Atchity works for Mental Health l like, a nonprofit advocating for equitable access to support and services across the state.

“Change is coming,” he said, as a result of 450 million dollars for COVID relief from the American Rescue Plan Act. The money is intended for Colorado to spend on behavioral health and may help organizations like Mancos United.

“And so we're hoping that that will go toward some essential access points for children and youth that will fill some gaps in services and care for adults,” says Atchity.

Colorado is in the midst of creating a new state agency, the Behavioral Health Administration.

“And plans are afoot to launch that in the course of the next couple of years,” says Atchity. “The idea is that it will consolidate the resources available for care.”

The state’s efforts to consolidate and centralize health services very much aligns with the approach Mancos United is taking to nonprofit access in the four corners. And that structural change is important. With that comes a need to change the way we talk about and stigmatize mental health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or anything really, reach out to Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.

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