COMMUNITY FORUM TACKLES TOPIC OF YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH
By: Alex DeWind
April 30, 2018
Two years ago, Kirstie June was admitted to Children’s Hospital Colorado for an eating disorder. The now senior at Chaparral High School in Parker was on the dance team. Revealing uniforms, paired with a pressure to maintain a certain body type, left her comparing herself to her teammates.
June lost so much weight that her heart rate became alarmingly low. She stayed in inpatient treatment at the hospital for five weeks.
Today, with help from a program at school called Sources of Strength and the support of her loved ones, June is in a different place.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” she said of receiving treatment. “I grew as a person. I met kids who were going through similar things.”
The teen was one of three speakers to share their experiences with mental health challenges April 26 at the first in a series of community mental health forums, hosted by Colorado Community Media, the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative and Douglas County Libraries.
Made up of individuals from the faith community, public health organizations and law enforcement, the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative aims to create an integrated mental health-care system and educate the public on mental-health resources.
The forum is in conjunction with Colorado Community Media’s eight-part series, called Time to Talk, that looks at mental health in Douglas County, specifically in areas of law enforcement, youths, seniors, the workplace and families.
The goal of the forum — which will be held throughout the year at libraries across Douglas County — is to get the community talking about mental health in hopes of helping individuals who are struggling. One in five people in the U.S. live with a mental illness, which means everyone knows someone who has a mental health problem or has had one.
Held at Lone Tree Library, 10055 Library Way, the first forum focused on the mental health of today’s youths. Keynote speaker Andrew Romanoff, CEO of Mental Health Colorado, started off by putting mental illness into perspective: About 250,000 people in Colorado live with a severe mental illness and 1 million people live with any type of mental illness, he said. Yet only 40 percent get the treatment they need.
“The point is, this is not some exotic disease that is confined to one section of the population,” said Romanoff. “It touches every family.”
Romanoff highlighted the importance of early intervention and utilizing evidence-based programs in schools, such as Sources of Strength, a youth suicide prevention program currently in 15 middle and high schools in Douglas County. The program promotes seeking help and building peer-to-peer connections.
Suicide hits close to home for Romanoff. Three years ago, he lost his younger cousin, whom he refers to as a “baby sister,” to suicide. She had been suffering from a deep depression that she hid from her family and friends, Romanoff said.
“She didn’t want anyone to know she was depressed or suicidal or mentally ill,” he shared with the crowd of more than 50 community members at the forum. “I wanted to share her story with you not because it is so unique, but because it is so common.”
The forum also offered the perspective of two teens. Kristen Torres, a graduate of Chaparral High School, served on the Mental Health Youth Action Board for Children’s Hospital Colorado. Made up of 15 young people from the Denver metro area, the board’s mission is to raise awareness about and de-stigmatize mental health issues.
Torres joined the board after her own experience with mental health challenges. In seventh grade, she started having chest pain, which she later discovered was anxiety manifesting itself into physical symptoms, she said.
Girls were mean in high school, said Torres, and at one point she considered taking her life. She went to a counselor, who suggested she go to an emergency room.
Today, Torres sees a counselor and listens to her body and emotions when she feels anxious. She goes to Colorado State University and aspires to be a psychologist so she can help others.
Torres lives by two mantras:
“Focus your attention on what matters,” she said. And, “refuse to be ashamed.”
Debbie Glossip, a resident from Parker, walked away from the forum with information to share with her friends, she said. She knows multiple people who have lost loved ones to suicide in recent years.
“People are paying attention, it’s a good start,” said Glossip. “I love hearing people’s stories.”
John Thirkell, the senior assistant attorney of Douglas County, called the speakers of the evening “brave individuals.” Every day, he works with families who struggle to find continuous care for a loved one with a mental illness in the criminal justice system.
“As a society, we need to do a much better job of making informed, effective and compassionate healthcare available to people,” Thirkell said. “We need to change public attitude.”
Story originally appeared in Castle Rock News Press.