Written for North Forty News as part of the Mental Health Matters series
The Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County addresses the needs of populations most at risk for suicide, by having dedicated Peer Outreach Coordinators who work directly with those populations. One such program is for veterans, designed to bring awareness and education to veterans serving organizations and connect veterans to supportive services in the community.
The Peer Outreach program started in 2019, and Marshall Spring was brought on as the Veteran Outreach Coordinator to lead the efforts. He is a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient with the Marine Corp. He also brings with him a preponderance of lived experience on the topic of suicide.
Marshall shares an adage “Veterans don’t fight the war, they fight for the guy next to them.” Veterans joined the military because there was a problem, and they stepped up to help fix it. Marshall uses veteran’s innate altruism as a path to prevent suicide by tapping into the person’s interests and finding out how they want to be involved through opportunities to help others.
“The mechanism that makes you want to survive, and makes you want to fight for your life, is not broken, it is overwhelmed,” says Marshall. It is impossible to pour from an empty cup. Having emotional distress and instability doesn’t allow the bandwidth to help others. Getting a veteran into a place of helping, facilitates the conversation about pouring from an empty cup. If more support is needed, there are resources available.
Economic instability and isolation are two leading factors of suicide and depression, and these are both on the rise right now due to the COVID-19 situation. Because of this, more people are accessing crisis resources, which Marshall says is ultimately good, “we want people to get help.”
There are a variety of factors that lead to struggle. Employment, education, housing, transportation, mental health services, physical health care, food, nutrition, safety, clothing, resume building, and life-skills are commonly used resources. Marshall helps identify the needs and then sets the individual up with an appointment with an expert in that field. He serves as a resource broker and connector and often takes veterans to appointments to avoid transportation barriers.
The Veteran Outreach Program offers a variety of peer support groups. These groups are not just for veterans but also for their families and supports. There are veteran groups, men’s groups, survivors of suicide loss groups, and various others based on the interests and needs of the participants. Anyone can be a part of these groups, and they are taking place amid pandemic, observing proper social distancing by spacing chairs out. Some are on virtual platforms.
The Veterans Outreach program, guided by a Leadership Committee, meets quarterly. They provide input on activities and programs that will be most effective in the community. The Alliance currently offers veteran-serving organizations training, helping to prepare them for how best to work with Veterans. This program also identifies service projects that provide a sense of purpose for Veterans that have not established community connections.
“We know veterans are much more likely to die by suicide than other populations,” explains Marshall. Veteran suicides are not well tracked due to inconsistencies in reporting causes of death. Additionally, no organization keeps track of how many veterans live in an area. Larimer County’s suicide rates were within the highest ten counties in Colorado, which is within the top ten states across the nation for suicide in general. Larimer County has many veterans who live in the area and a lot of resources that can help with recovery.
“We have a real opportunity to support people here,” says Marshall. Larimer County is resource-rich; we just need to do a better job of connecting people to those resources, which is why this peer model is so promising. “I want people to know they aren’t alone, and there are plenty of things we can do to get help and help others.”
If you, or a loved one, are struggling, below are the numbers to call for the next steps. The Veterans Crisis Line offers confidential 24/7 support by trained responders for veterans. The assistance applies to all service members, National Guard and Reserve, and their family members and friends. For non-crisis help, reach out to Marshall with Alliance for Suicide Prevention Veteran Outreach Program.
For Non-Crisis Support, and to get in touch with Marshall:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-482-2209
For the Veteran Crisis Line:
Call: 1-800-273-8255 and press’ 1’.
Support for deaf and hard hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Connect online: veteranscrisisline.net