Senior humanities students at Animas High School plan to promote resiliency and mental wellness among youths in Durango through a film, magazine, web project and fundraising efforts.
Students hope to help address the high rates of suicide in La Plata County through their Community of Resilience project.
The project is part of a semester-long focus on sustainable development, which examines the environmental, economic and cultural and social factors that contribute to problems such as poor mental health in a community. The model allows students to examine the complexity of an issue, said humanities teacher Lori Fisher.
Students explored issues they might want to help address and pitched them to their peers, said Alma Wolf, a senior. The group ultimately settled on mental health.
“We saw the high suicide rates specifically as what was unsustainable in the community,” Wolf said.
La Plata County’s suicide rate was 34 deaths per 100,000 people last year, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. The average suicide rate nationwide is about 13 deaths per 100,000, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Students don’t expect to radically reduce the rate of suicide, but they do want to help build on the efforts of other community organizations, Wolf said.
“We hope to move the needle a little bit. ... We hope to increase the conversation in Durango about mental health,” she said.
Five people younger than 25 have died by suicide in 2018, and survey data show that a high percentage of students are considering it.
In La Plata County, 17 percent of high school students have considered suicide and 16 percent of middle school students have thought about it, according to Healthy Kids Colorado survey data collected in 2017.
The students are working with community organizations, such as Celebrating Healthy Communities, a coalition of community organizations that works to prevent risky behavior among teens, including suicide and substance use.
Teens helping to promote resiliency and mental wellness can help change the community’s culture because they have a direct impact on their families and younger students, said Breeah Kinsella, interim director of the coalition.
“We believe in their voices,” she said.
One group working on the project plans to gather stories, mostly from high school and middle school students, about how they overcame challenges in their lives, said Charlie Stein, a senior.
Those stories will be shared with student groups working on the film, magazine and web stories, he said.
The magazine is expected to feature student essays about resiliency and mental wellness, poetry and a directory of counselors and mental-health resources, Wolf said.
When complete, much of the content will be shared on Durangocares.com, an existing website that lists mental health resources available in La Plata County. The site was built and maintained by Ballantine Communications Inc., the parent company of The Durango Herald.
Students also plan to work with BCI staff to improve the functionality of the site, Cady Bright said.
A student group is working on fundraising for the Second Wind Fund, which connects children and teens at risk of suicide with therapists in their community. The group will also pay for 12 sessions of therapy.
The Community of Resilience project will be launched at an event in January that will feature a screening of the student film, among other activities. The date and time for the event is to be determined.