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New Colorado group takes on suicide prevention for veterans through innovative therapies

Studies show the risk for veterans taking their own lives continues to climb year after year.

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — One of the most vulnerable populations to suicide are the people who have signed up to fight for Americans' lives and freedom.

Studies show the risk for veterans taking their own lives continues to climb year after year.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, 6,261 veterans died by suicide, a suicide rate 52.3% higher than non-veterans in the U.S., according to the annual report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The same study shows that percentage has been increasing each year for decades.

"The reason that I'm here and have a passion for mental health is because my former career field – explosive ordinance disposal, that's army bomb squad – we have the highest suicide rate of any job in the military, hands down," Sam Peterson, a co-founder and the director of business development for Mind Spa, said.

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With the help of veteran and medical director Dr. Eric French and clinical director Dr. Ron Schwenkler, Peterson created Mind Spa, a new facility in Greenwood Village aimed at optimizing "the treatment of mental health disorders through cutting-edge, evidence-based, layered integrative therapies that create meaningful positive change in the lives of our patients," according to its website.

"The entire premise of Mind Spa is predicated upon the fact that all of mental health care is disconnected," French said. "It’s extremely rare that a thoughtful plan from start to finish is layered thoughtfully and put together in such a way that it’s going to hasten recovery and make it a lot more dynamic."

The group uses integrative forms of therapy for the brain, like psychotherapy, medications if needed, ketamine and trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) among other therapies to treat patients battling with a range of mental health struggles.

"What we are trying to do is approach this complex organ with a complex solution," Peterson said. "You wouldn't try to build a house with just a hammer."

Peterson said he easily could've been included in the number of veterans who've taken their own lives after his own service in Afghanistan.

"I kept seeing time after time, you know, people killing themselves," he said.

But the death that hurt him the most was his own mentor's.

"[He] didn't tell anybody, didn't show any signs," Peterson said. "He walked out into his backyard and shot himself with his three-year-old son in the house."

RELATED: Colorado planning monument honoring WWII Major General Maurice Rose

That tragic moment became a catalyst for Peterson taking on suicide prevention, now with the help of Schwenkler and French, for everyone - especially veterans and first responders.

"We don’t do nearly enough for them," French said. "And a lot of them feel lost to the system, underappreciated, not acknowledged and that just can’t be."

"Mainly because these are people who have chosen to serve a purpose higher than themselves," Peterson said.

Anyone interested in learning more can visit mindspadenver.com or call 720-822-3838.

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