Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Colorado Springs Gazette, Sept. 25, on teen suicide:
Here’s the terrible news: Teen suicide rates are soaring throughout the country. Here’s even worse news: Colorado leads the trend.
Now, the good news: We can reduce teen suicide by addressing the crisis directly, as seen in metropolitan Colorado Springs.
The United Health Foundation released a report last week that found a startling rise in teen suicides. From 2016 through 2018, the national teen suicide rate rose by 25% for adolescents ages 15-19. That’s an increase of 8.4 to 10.5 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people in that age group.
Colorado led the trend with a whopping 58% increase in teen suicides — more than double the troublesome national increase.
Our No. 1 ranking for teen suicides should be nothing less than a crisis to the political class, and leadership of businesses, communities, religious institutions, schools and nonprofits.
Stop, for the moment, this fixation with climate change and flashy battery cars. Instead, kick off the next legislative session with a focus on young people in states of emotional turmoil so severe they are willing to end their lives.
While we probably cannot stop the climate’s historical propensity to change, we can quickly alter the teen suicide trajectory. Just look to Colorado Springs and the rest of El Paso County to see how it can be done. It involves a warmer, kinder, more caring social climate.
At the same time, Colorado’s teen suicide rate went off the charts, community leaders throughout the Colorado Springs metro area worked together to address the dilemma. They decided to look for at-risk young people and offer them help.
After the county organized a suicide-prevention workgroup, we saw teachers, parents, friends and clergy learn to look for signs of mental distress in time for life-saving interventions.
The result: A 46.7% decrease in the teen suicide rate as the rest of the state increased by 58%. That, despite the fact metro Colorado Springs makes up more than 10% of the state’s population.
“I like to think we’re seeing a reduction in the rate because of how the community has aligned in the past few years,” said Meghan Haynes, the county’s teen suicide prevention planner, as quoted in a news story by Gazette reporter Debbie Kelley.
Haynes explained how 160 youth pastors and other faith leaders obtained youth mental health first aid training as one part of an overall effort to reduce teen suicide. The program teaches pastors how to talk with troubled youths, assess their conditions and get the appropriate professional help.
We can reduce and, God willing, stop teen suicides by paying more loving and caring attention to the adolescents in our families, churches, schools and social circles.
Young people who are bullied, overstressed, sad, lonely or otherwise distressed need attention from someone who cares. Don’t look the other way. Get involved and save a life.
Knock Colorado off the top of that disturbing list by making children our highest concern. Let’s race to the bottom of the suicide list, using every best practice we can find.
The Pueblo Chieftain, Sept. 24, on hemp industry bringing jobs:
If you look up the word “paragon” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’ll find it means “a model of excellence or perfection.”
Paragon Processing, the nation’s largest hemp processing operation, certainly provided some excellent news with its plans to hire 250 workers by the end of the year at its facility located near Colorado City. Paragon hopes to ramp up its operations there within the next 20 to 30 days.
The company wants to hire maintenance people, general laborers and skilled trades people, many of whom already may be living in the region.
“We have found very strong people out of the oil and mining industries that have experience using these types of equipment, but not necessarily for this purpose,” said William Chavis, a Paragon partner. “We invite as many local people as we can to come in and help out with some of the general labor.”
Paragon’s 256,000-square-foot plant will be used to test hemp for pesticides, heavy metals and microorganisms. Hemp that’s deemed suitable for commercial use will be processed and stored.
If all goes according to plan, Paragon expects to double the number of new hires within two years.
That’s a significant number of jobs for our community. And it demonstrates the potential hemp-related businesses have to become an increasingly important part of the local economy.
Until recently, the hemp industry had a murky legal status because of the plant’s biological links to the marijuana family. Unlike its more popular cousin, hemp plants contain only minute traces of the chemical substance people use to get high.
Nevertheless, federal regulators viewed hemp with suspicion. That changed last year with the passage of the federal farm bill. That legislation specified that hemp should no longer be treated as a controlled substance and therefore could be legally grown, processed and sold throughout the country.
This was big news — and Paragon’s planned hiring spree could be just the beginning. Hemp plants can be broken down and used to create a wide variety of products, including rope, fabrics, fiberboard, paper, construction materials and plastic composites.
One of hemp’s advantages is that it’s biodegradable within a matter of a few months, which could make it an environmentally friendly alternative to products like conventional plastic straws, which currently are drawing heavy criticism from activists and government officials in various places.
The leaders of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. had recognized hemp’s potential even before the farm bill’s passage and were positioning the community to make hemp-related businesses a major area of emphasis in its economic development strategy.
Yet there are limits to what PEDCO can do by itself. One of its major recruitment tools is the half-cent sales tax available to provide incentives to attract or retain businesses. However, that’s a city tax, which means it can’t be used to help companies that wish to locate in outlying areas of Pueblo County.
It seems likely that many hemp-related businesses would require large tracts of land, which are more abundant in the county’s rural areas. As a result, county officials need to step up to offer whatever assistance they can to encourage those types of businesses to locate here.
Hemp probably won’t be the sole factor that determines Pueblo County’s future economic fortunes. However, the versatile plants could be at least part of that future. And that’s something we should try to cultivate.
The Denver Post, Sept. 23, on making youth gun-violence prevention a priority:
Denver needs to get serious about youth gun-violence prevention.
Too many of our kids are dying every year at the end of a gun. Far too often that gun is fired by another teen whose life will also be shattered by that bullet.
The Denver Post’s Elise Schmelzer exposed the problem when she uncovered statistics from the Denver Police Department that indicate things might be getting worse. In 2018 and so far in 2019, 15 teenagers and children in Denver have died from gun homicides. Comparatively, in 2015, Schmelzer reported there were two kids under the age of 20 who were shot and killed, five in 2016 and four in 2017.
This is a rallying cry for our youths, the general public and our elected officials to start prioritizing this issue, which overlaps with other issues including teen suicides and school shootings. We must protect our kids from guns.
It can be done if we start making stopping gun violence a priority.
Jonathan McMillan has been on the front lines of working with Denver’s youth gang problem, and he says part of the problem is simply awareness.
“One of the things that frustrates me and that I find challenging is that unless it’s a mass shooting a lot of times youth gun violence flies under the radar,” McMillan said. “Those shootings always spark a conversation, one that needs to be had, but last year I had seven or eight kids that I had known . killed or involved in a shooting in some capacity. This is really the daily reality that a lot of families or communities are dealing with.”
So while most readers know the name of a student who was killed this year in a Highlands Ranch school shooting, few will probably recognize the name Darrell Mitchell, a 19-year-old who was shot and killed in Denver last month.
It’s time we make the conversation surrounding the violent gun deaths of all teens equally as robust and loud.
The good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. McMillan knows there are dozens of groups doing good work in this field.
Denver Public Health released a report this month that said between 2012 and 2017 there were a total of 74 deaths due to gun violence among Denver youth who are under 25 years old. Of those 27 were suicides and 47 were homicides. And over that same six-year period there were 175 hospitalizations due to gun-related injuries. The report estimates that gun violence impacts about 700 young people every year either directly or indirectly.
“These are stable and unacceptable rates,” said Denver Public Health director, Dr. Bill Burman. “We should not as a community have to have 13 deaths a year and 700 youths affected by gun violence. Those are unacceptable.”
Burman said Denver Health’s Mile High Youth Thrive coalition, which has been around for years, is working on recommendations right now that focus on efforts to approach this issue from an incremental public health standpoint which have proven effective in other communities. We look forward to that work.
But we’d like to see the city of Denver and Denver Public Schools using their collective might to get behind such an effort too: their police, social workers, teachers and other employees are after all at the forefront of this issue and already doing good work. They are the ones who can bring our youth into the fold before tragedy strikes and patients arrive at Denver Health or teens arrive at the county jail. They are the ones who can take this fight to the neighborhoods and make this city’s children safer. They can engage nonprofits so everyone is pulling in the same direction, and they can push for funding for community interventions and develop the political will for gun safety legislation.
Burman said some cities have developed a goal of not losing a single kid to guns in a year.
That should be Denver’s goal.