Animas High School students educated community members Monday about the importance of relationships in suicide prevention and the promotion of mental health.
“Nobody is exempted from the right to a loving community,” AHS senior Ethan Holst told a gathering of more than 100 students, parents and community members at Fort Lewis College. “... We all care and we want to make this community a healthier and happier place.”
Seniors from AHS hosted the Community of Resilience event as part of a semester-long school project, which included publishing a magazine, producing a film and developing content for an existing directory of mental health resources.
The seniors’ work was part of curriculum focused on sustainable development, which examines the environmental, economic, cultural and social factors that contribute to problems such as poor mental health.
The students invited two public health experts to the event to talk about work being done in the community to prevent suicide and how individuals can respond those who have experienced trauma.
Talking about emotions and mental health takes inner strength, and encouraging conversation about trauma has been one of the missions of San Juan Basin Public Health for two years, said Kate Jones, Thriving Youth Programs supervisor with the agency.
“If we can’t even talk about it, how are we supposed to address the problem on a more complex level?” she said.
According to a Kaiser Permanente study, experiencing trauma as a child such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and some forms of family dysfunction can increase the risk of suicide, alcoholism, depression and diabetes, heart disease and substance use.
However, when children have at least one stable committed adult in their life, the relationship can protect them from some of the consequences of trauma, said Doty Shepard, founder of Resilient Colorado.
Building lasting and meaningful relationships with teenagers requires authenticity, she said.
“Tell your story to someone who has earned the right to hear it,” Shepard said.
Sharing a story with someone you trust can encourage that person to be open about their own personal struggles as well.
Attendee Karen Hickerson said she appreciates the AHS seniors’ project because many students in the community have been affected by suicide and depression but it tends be a fringe topic.
“To really bring that into the light and into the forefront, I think is so important,” said Hickerson, mother of AHS senior Owen Hickerson.
The students’ film and articles about resiliency will be available soon on DurangoCares.com, a directory of organizations that provide mental health care and other suicide awareness, prevention, intervention and post-vention services.
The students also developed a quiz to help guide DurangoCares.com visitors to the best organization to help them. The website was created and is hosted by Ballantine Communications, the parent company of The Durango Herald, as part of the Herald’s ongoing coverage of suicide in La Plata County.