Multiple challenges face communities in accessing mental health. Existing resources and trainings often focus on crisis needs and immediate suicide risk. However, many people suffer from distress and moderate depression or anxiety, sometimes acutely and/or undiagnosed, that significantly impact their health and well-being. COMET fills that gap in resources for people in this "vulnerable space" and aims to prevent crisis.
COMET was developed by the High Plains Research Network (HPRN) Community Advisory Council (a grassroots group of ranchers, teachers, small business managers, students, retirees in rural eastern Colorado), rural mental health professionals, and health researchers. Supported by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, this partnership conducted a rigorous exploration of mental health gaps and assets in rural communities.
Recognizing that mental health functions on a spectrum, COMET™ (Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory) teaches people how to intervene when they encounter someone who is in a “vulnerable space” and help shift the person’s mental health trajectory back to a place of wellness instead of proceeding towards a mental health crisis. COMET™ helps fill a gap and is a strong complement to other strategies to reduce the suffering resulting from the high levels of stress in rural, agricultural communities.
COMET aligns with rural cultural values of neighbor helping neighbor and communities being their own best resource. COMET empowers friends and neighbors to be more prepared to support others’ mental health needs – especially before a crisis. COMET does not to ask community members to “be the fix.” Rather, the program trains community members how to initiate a supportive interaction for a potentially emotional conversation using a simple, conversational seven-question guide. The seven questions/statements include: acknowledgment that someone “is not yourself,” asking how they are, observation of behavior or other change, asking about family or social life, an invitation to engage (continue the conversation then or later), optional self-disclosure, and next steps (help person more or exit). The COMET Questions are built around evidence-based techniques of using lay educators, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing approach. COMET is easy to teach and aims to make these tools more accessible to a broader community.
For Community members to learn and use the COMET Questions. Delivered by a two-person training team.
Interested in teaching COMET? Train-the-Trainer provides regional trainers with program background, key concepts, and a thorough review of content and COMET questions. Identifies opportunities for local tailoring, such as local resources and health providers. Also provides basic teaching tips.
Both training courses are 90-minutes and include experiential and didactic sections covering local mental health data, shared examples of being “the other person,” the COMET questions, role-playing, and action planning. Ideally, COMET training is delivered in-person; however, virtual versions of both trainings are available.
Trainees have included farmers/ranchers, law enforcement, coroners, health care professionals, teachers, and retail workers.
Organizations we’ve trained: School district staff, county advisory committees, social work departments, farmer/rancher wife groups, community college agricultural production program, agricultural-based organizations, hospital hospice staff, hospital board, medical care clinic staff, nonprofit organizations, veterans groups, church groups, adult protective services, volunteer firefighters
States we’re in: Colorado, Wisconsin, Nebraska, California
"Our goal is to connect communities with trainings that empower connection and bold action. Most suicide prevention and mental health awareness trainings can be overwhelming and leave participants overwhelmed. These life-saving trainings are effective, but many times individuals need to learn new skills for connecting and may, in time, want more intensive training. COMET offers just that: natural, authentic connection and that is why it is an essential beginning to our continuum of training services." - Maranda Miller, Centennial Mental Health Center
Maret Felzien, MA
COMET Training Director
Maret Felzien is a native of rural northeast Colorado and is the Director for the COMET Training Program. Ms. Felzien is a founding member of the High Plains Research Network (HPRN) Community Advisory Council. She is a fourth-generation dry-land farmer and cattle rancher and recently retired from a 26-year career as associate professor and reading specialist at Northeastern Junior College. She has conducted multiple local and national workshops on engaging the community health research and programs. Previously, Ms. Felzien served as Chairperson for the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute’s Partnership of Academicians and Community for Translation (PACT) Council. Ms. Felzien also was the first U.S. Patient representative for the Board of the North American Primary Care Research Group and is a current member of the PaCE (Patients and Clinician Engagement) Committee.
Kristen Curcija, MPH
COMET Program Manager
Kristen Curcija, MPH, is a Research Services Senior Professional at the University of Colorado Department of Family Medicine. Her work focuses on practice-based and public health research, particularly in rural regions. She supports the High Plains Research Network and its Community Advisory Council. Her research experience and interests include diabetes, mental health, and treatment for opioid use disorder. She holds a Masters degree in Public Health from Benedictine University.
Linda Zittleman, MSPH
COMET Evaluation Lead
Linda is the Co-Director for the High Plains Research Network (HPRN). With HPRN, she oversees all aspects of research and program activities and fosters and coordinates the HPRN Community Advisory Council. She is experienced in community-based participatory research and practice-based research. Linda greatly enjoys working with people on the eastern plains and informing urban folks of the knowledge gained and new ideas from rural settings.
Joseph (JC) Carrica III, Ed.D., CAS
President & CEO, Southeast Health Group
COMET Lead Trainer
JC Carrica, a southeast Colorado Native, has dedicated his career to improving the lives of residents of rural areas with a focus on advocating for those struggling with addiction and mental illness. Carrica has served Southeast Health Group for two decades and is currently CEO. In 2020, Carrica was named to the National Council on Mental Wellbeing Board of Directors. He is involved in multiple community and statewide organizations and is head coach of a high school softball team.
Sadie Fritzler, MA
Sadie is a native of Northeast Colorado with 10 years of experience in Career and Technical Education and Higher Education Student Services. She has provided representation on Banner Health’s Hospital Transformation Program for Sterling Regional Medical Center and served on the Patient Advisory Board for Northeast Colorado Family Medicine. Sadie will be engaging in practice-based research projects and engaging the community to better healthcare in the Northeast Plains of Colorado.
If you've attended a COMET Training and you've used the COMET questions in your community, we want to hear from you! Share your experiences with us online or by email so we can continue to improve this program.
Email us for more information at COMET@cuanschutz.edu.