Sources + CDPHE = Powerful Prevention in Colorado

Sources of Strength pilot program works “upstream” in seven schools to prevent the need for youth suicide intervention

By Jan Stapleman | Office of Communications
It’s an overused adjective, but well-earned by the Sources of Strength youth suicide-prevention program. It also applies to the way the program is being piloted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in seven middle and high schools across the state over the next two years.
Most youth suicide-prevention programs are designed to identify kids who are at risk of suicide and launch an intervention. In contrast, Sources of Strength works “upstream” to build a support system of connections to schools and caring adults that helps protect kids from needing such interventions. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Colorado children ages 10 to 17.
Research shows the program’s protective factors are effective against a range of problems, which is why the program is being piloted in an unusual way in Colorado, supported partially by CDC funds designated for rape prevention and education. 
“We know school connectedness is protective for suicide, sexual violence, substance abuse, bullying and more,” said Jarrod Hindman, director of the Office of Suicide Prevention. “It was unique and cool and innovative for the CDC to fund something that works across programs like this.”
The CDC funding, $70,000 over two years, will pay for implementing and supporting the program in the seven pilot schools: two in Adams County; one in Trinidad; and one each in Boulder, Denver, El Paso and Fremont counties. State funding from the Child Fatality Prevention System and the Office of Suicide Prevention paid for “train-the-trainer” sessions for personnel from the pilot schools and other Colorado schools that have local funding to pay for implementation. Having certified trainers in the schools significantly reduces the cost of implementation and can improve the program’s sustainability.
At the June 23-26 training, Sources of Strength founder Mark LoMurray led the Colorado educators, along with school counselors, local public health staffers and community youth group leaders from various states, through games they will use to prepare adult advisers and student leaders for their roles. The games, and the program, are designed to help teens identify and connect with their own sources of strength from eight possible realms: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access and mental health. LoMurray demonstrated a light and fun approach, using the games to introduce a quick lesson, not a heavy moral imperative.
“We ask our mental health professionals to scrub that mental health language,” he said. “We use teen language here.”
Participants took turns leading the games in small groups. They practiced asking questions and summarizing lessons learned in a quick, light-hearted way, then evaluated their success. LoMurray’s son Scott, who has taken up the mantle of his father’s work as deputy director of the program, helped lead the small group practice sessions. This fall, he and other Sources of Strength personnel will go into Colorado schools and help the newly trained participants implement the program.
Mark LoMurray developed the program over his 40-year career as a social worker working with teens and young adults in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. In 2009, Sources of Strength was listed on the National Best Practices Registry by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In 2011, the program gained listing on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. The program was the subject of one of the nation’s largest studies on peer leaders and their impact in suicide prevention, with results published in 2010 in the American Journal of Public Health. Among other results, the study found:
  • Peer leaders’ connectedness to adults increased.
  • Peer leaders’ school engagement increased.
  • Peer leaders in larger schools were four times more likely to refer a suicidal friend to an adult.
“We will be the first to evaluate the program for sexual violence outcomes,” said Tomei Kuehl, supervisor of the Sexual Violence Prevention Unit. “This is all about taking an innovative approach to work across programs.”
“We used our partnerships at the local level to recruit schools for the pilot,” explained Colleen Kapsimalis, unit supervisor of the Child Fatality Prevention System. Kapsimalis said connections with the state’s local child fatality prevention teams helped identify interested schools. One of three recommendations made in the 2015 Colorado Child Fatality Prevention System Annual Legislative Report, to prevent youth suicide, is “expand implementation and evaluation of school-based suicide-prevention programs that promote resilience and positive youth development as protective factors from suicide statewide.”
Hindman said Sources of Strength is a priority for his office. “There are a lot of good programs out there designed to identify kids at risk and intervene,” he said. “But Sources of Strength builds a support system to prevent kids from getting to that point. Our hope is that five years down the road Sources of Strength will be in 100 Colorado schools.”