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A few of the Colorado agencies that work in suicide prevention. (Colorado Sun illustration)

In Colorado, where the leading cause of death for young people is suicide, a related statistic reveals one more layer in a complex issue. 

One in five Colorado teens who identify as gay or transgender has attempted suicide, according to the latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. That’s almost three times the rate of Colorado teens in general. 

Add that to this finding from the state Attorney General’s Office: many gay and trans youth avoid seeking help from the traditional places — church, school counselors, parents or the state’s mental health crisis line — because they worry it won’t come judgment-free. 

Enter the Trevor Project, a national organization that is working to expand its presence and volunteer network in Colorado. Expect to hear more about the project’s text, chat and phone lines this year in social media feeds and ads posted around the state.

Aimee Resnick, a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School, credits the Trevor Project with saving her life. She chatted with a Trevor counselor just before she planned to kill herself. The counselor called police. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)

The organization recently received a $25,000 grant and the promise of a new batch of volunteers from AT&T-Colorado. The pledge was part of a $250,000 effort called Believe Denver, focused on preventing youth suicide in the city. 

Nationally, suicide ranks as the second-leading cause of death for youth. Colorado’s above-average rate shows the need for the Trevor Project to spread its reach here, said Chris Bright, director of public training for Trevor. The project connected with 1,500 Colorado kids last year, but that is only about 7% of the gay and trans youth who are in crisis in this state, based on the state’s latest youth survey, he said. 

“We need young people to know we exist and we are there for them,” Bright said. “It’s something that can’t be overstated or overlooked.”

Numerous Colorado volunteers who want to become text and chat counselors have signed up since AT&T announced the Believe project this fall. The company said 230 of its workers have pledged to volunteer for the Trevor Project or another organization working to prevent suicide, including Big Brothers and Sisters, City Year Denver in local schools, and One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.

The Trevor Project — named after an Academy Award-winning short film about a gay boy — began 20 years ago with a phone line, then added texting and chatting about seven years ago. The project went 24/7 last year though a $1.3 million AT&T partnership, meaning a trained counselor will respond even if it’s the middle of the night. 

LGBTQ youth who know at least one accepting adult are 40% less likely to attempt suicide. “Young people around the country fall in love every day, they explore their gender, they express themselves,” Bright said. The ones at higher risk of suicide “are the people that society has cast aside, that are told, ‘The way you fall in love isn’t OK, the way you express your gender isn’t OK.’”

Aimee Resnick, a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School, credits the Trevor Project with saving her life. 

A little more than a year ago, when Resnick was feeling devastated by a friend’s repeated statements that she would go to hell because she was bisexual, she made a plan to kill herself. Alone in her room one evening, Resnick went to the Trevor Project’s website and opened a live chat with a counselor. 

She wasn’t asking for help, exactly. What she wanted was to leave a record. “I wanted to leave a note to my parents to say why I was going to die,” she said, meaning a “note” that was a series of chat messages to a stranger. 

Except the Trevor Project counselor called police, and officers, along with a social worker, quickly arrived at Resnick’s front door. She didn’t know they were coming until the doorbell rang. What came next was a rough conversation with her parents. Resnick says she was outed to her mom and dad by the police officers, and that the police left soon after she pretended that she was fine. 

Still, it was a turning point. The 14-year-old is now in regular therapy to deal with depression, and she’s become an advocate for LGBTQ youth. As part of the city of Centennial’s youth commission, she has asked for all-gender bathrooms in city buildings. This year she became a member of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, which provides feedback to state legislators. Suicide prevention and support for gay and trans youth are at the top of her agenda. 

For Resnick, it wasn’t that something snapped to make her want to end her life. It was more that she was “exhausted for a long time” about not feeling like she fit in or that people would accept her as she is. 

She logged onto Trevor because she figured the counselor there could relate. “If you call a more general service,” she said, “you don’t know if they are going to be supportive.”

In addition to Trevor Project ads, expect to see a new series of state-produced, suicide-prevention videos on social media this fall.

The state attorney general’s office, along with the Colorado Department of Behavioral Health and other partners, debuted the public service announcements Tuesday. The video campaign will feature more than 40 students from across the state speaking about mental health and suicide, including some who are LGBTQ. 

The videos, some of which are now on YouTube, direct kids who need help to the state’s Safe2Tell phone and text line. Others, part of the “Below the Surface” campaign, direct youth to the Colorado Crisis Services text line. Both lines are similar to The Trevor Project, but are for all youth, not just those who are LGBTQ.

Jennifer Brown writes about mental health, the child welfare system, the disability community and homelessness for The Colorado Sun. As a former Montana 4-H kid, she also loves writing about agriculture and ranching. Brown previously...