Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Resilient Factors

Guest Blog by Ashley Herbst

          A famous band once crooned, “Who told you life wasn’t worth the fight? Only G-d knows what went wrong, and why you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song” (Rascal Flatts, 2009). According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), in 2012 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 18 years old; yet, what most don’t recognize is that the number of deaths by suicide for incarcerated youth is three times this number (21.9 per 10,000), making it the leading cause of death for detained youth. The tragedy among juvenile detention centers and residential treatment facilities is not only that suicide is the leading cause of death amongst the youth, but also that many of these facilities are not implementing or utilizing best practices or effective and evidence-based services to those in need. Although there has been a significant increase in the efforts to eliminate suicide over the past ten years, especially in teens and through risk assessment, not enough time and effort is dedicated toward prevention and intervention methods as identifying, encouraging, and supporting resilient factors within incarcerated youth.
 Acknowledging and addressing resilient factors has been identified as extremely valuable and encouraged as a best practice by research and mental health professionals. Also known as “protective factors,” resilient factors are conditions, interests, and qualities that “promote strength and resilience and ensure that vulnerable individuals are supported and connected with others during difficult times” (It Only Takes One, 2015, p.1). These include access to effective, empathetic, and competent mental and physical health care, strong connections to support from one’s family and community, problem-solving and adaptive conflict resolution skills, and social activities (It Only Takes One, 2015). In fact, a study performed by Taliaferro, Rienzo, Miller, Pigg, and Dodd (2008) found that for adolescent males, the risk of hopelessness and suicidality were reduced by frequent vigorous activity; and for females the experience of hopelessness was present and stronger in adolescent females who endorsed and demonstrated low levels of physical activity. Not only does this suggest that providing adolescents and young adults with social and/or physical activities outside of their home and school may be beneficial to their physical, and therefore mental health; but it also suggests that activities may instigate and facilitate social support- an invaluable factor of resilience in youth. Finding an interest, creative outlet, or topic of discussion is a simple start, then moving onto talents, skills, and values can also help. Involving family, friends, and/or community resources is also recognized as a beneficial action step to demonstrate that the youth is not alone, and belongs somewhere. Working with the youth to identify dreams, goals, values, and/or anything future related can instill hope and purpose (D. Beck, personal communication, August 8, 2015).
The tragedy among juvenile detention centers and residential treatment facilities is not only that suicide is the leading cause of death amongst the youth, but also that many of these facilities are not implementing or utilizing best practices or effective and evidence-based services to those in need. Identifying, discussing and/or supporting resilient factors in an at-risk youth has been empirically shown to be one of those best practices in prevention and intervention efforts. To bring things full circle, life is meant to be lived, and all professionals working in or with the Juvenile Justice system have the opportunity to stop an incarcerated youth from leaving the stage in the middle of a song (Rascal Flatts, 2009).

Ashley Herbst is a second-year Psy.D. student in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. She earned her M.S. in clinical psychology at Loyola University of Maryland in 2014, and has a special interest in adolescents and young adults involved in the justice system. She can be contacted at

Monday, December 7, 2015

Impact a Student's Life on Colorado Gives Day

One of CJSF's most groundbreaking initiatives is our youth entrepreneurship FIRE Within program. The FIRE Within is a unique opportunity for high school students to significantly impact their school and community by creating sustainable, revenue generating businesses that directly address root causes of mental health distress and promote suicide prevention.

On December 8th, Colorado will celebrate a statewide day of giving - Colorado Gives Day. On December 8th, your gifts go further. Please click here to schedule your Sponsor a Student gift.

One Colorado High School shares their story:
By November 2014 two ninth grade students had died by suicide and several more were identified as having suicide plans. While typically an upper classman curriculum, this school took on FIRE Within with a group of freshman, identified at high risk of dropping out of school due to poor academic performance, low attendance, substance abuse, gang involvement, and other challenges. The students set out to create a social enterprise addressing widespread issues of distrust within their community. The students' goal was to open lines of communication between youth and adults, to build a more cohesive student community, and to reduce stigma around help-seeking behavior. Through the FIRE Within program, the class showed continual increases in academics, attendance, class and school engagement, improved teamwork skills and class cohesion, better understanding of school and social issues, and increased self-confidence.
"I am shocked at the transformation some of these students have made...This program showed these kids how they could use their natural talents for something that serves a community in need." - FIRE Within Educator
Over six hundred students participate in the FIRE Within each year. Please consider helping us continue providing this opportunity by "Sponsoring a Student". Your sponsorship will cover academic materials and program costs for one student for the full year. For just $20 per month, you can forever impact the future of an entrepreneurial high school student, and make a difference to an entire community!

As we embark on a new year, we take time to reflect and show gratitude for the many milestones and successes of 2015. Thank you for all you do to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority.

With Gratitude,

Sally Spencer-Thomas
Co-Founder and CEO