New Mental Health Center On Reservation Aims To Deal With High Rates Of Suicide

As the Mountain West continues to see a disproportionate number of youth suicides, one tribe in Southwest Colorado is opening up a new mental health center on its reservation to deal with alarming rates there. 

Earlier this year two teenagers died by suicide in the Ute Mountain Ute community. 

DeAnne House is a councilwoman for the tribe and a trained psychologist. She said the deaths were certainly not the first suicides in their community but they really shook people.

“During that time,” she said, “a lot of community members came out and spoke about wanting help.”

She hopes opening up a new behavioral health center on the reservation will be the help they are looking for. It will have therapists and suicide prevention specialists, among other services. 

House said it might be a struggle to get people in the door, though, because suicide and mental health have been extremely stigmatized in native communities like hers.

“Our mental wellbeing is something that people keep covered and they don’t want to speak about it,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, American Indians and Native Alaskans have the highest rates of suicide of any ethnic group in the country.

But House pointed out that the younger generation in her tribe has been more active and outspoken about needing better mental health support, and that is starting to change the culture.

A short film made several years ago by Ute Mountain Ute youth, called “Escape,” dealt with the themes of alcoholism, bullying, depression, and suicide. And House said “that is where the turning point came where the kids were able to speak about what was really happening.”

The new behavioral health center is expected to start offering services in early November.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.