Brianna was 11 years old when she was first bullied at school. She suffered from anxiety and depression. Her father told her she was a mistake.
Then she got help. Brianna joined a program called “Check Your Head.” She learned how to express her feelings through song, dance, poetry, journaling, and art.
Now she counsels friends who face similar challenges. She’s spoken at a press conference at the State Capitol, addressed 500 attendees at a downtown gala, and found — in her favorite Walt Disney line — “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
Mental Health Colorado started “Check Your Head” because of young people like Brianna. Nearly 2,000 students have taken part in the program over the past seven years.
That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. More than one million Coloradans experience a mental health or substance use disorder each year. The first symptoms typically appear during adolescence.
According to the most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey:
-an estimated 30 percent of our state’s high-school students have felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks;
-more than 17 percent have considered suicide in the past year; and
-nearly 8 percent have attempted in the past year.
These problems are particularly acute for LGBTQ students and for students of color. Reports of depression were more than twice as common among LGBTQ students as among straight students, suicidal thoughts were three times as common, and suicide attempts were five times as common.
Reports of depression were more common among African American students than among White students. Reports of depression and suicide attempts were even higher among Latino students. Multiracial students reported the highest rates of all.
What can we do? First, we can make it easier for Coloradans to get screened for mental health and substance use disorders (see mentalhealthcolorado.org/screenings or call 720-208-2220). Second, we can train parents, teachers, and students themselves to recognize the early warning signs. Third, we can make sure that our schools and communities have the resources they need to respond.
“A renewed sense of empowerment.” That’s what Brianna’s mother says her daughter has gained through “Check Your Head.” It’s what every Coloradan deserves.
Andrew Romanoff is the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, the state’s leading advocate for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. Romanoff served as the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.