Mental Health Activism

December 11, 2017

The very word – suicide – is synonymous with tragedy. Grand Junction, our town, our home, demonstrates one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, with a ranking of 2.5 times the national average. In only the last year, forty-eight people completed suicide.

In the course of one school year, we have lost seven of our high-school peers to suicide. These tragedies kindled sleepless nights for many of us. It even appeared at times that no solution existed to this repeated trauma and still, no matter how much we loved, no matter how many hotline numbers we passed out, no matter the tears the cried and when we questioned the purpose, the world, the universe- we were losing lives. As a community, we are still grieving, and the Grand Valley has proven to be and will continue to be a home to many hurting and purely broken people. More importantly, that common knowledge and understanding has empowered many people in the community to take action. In the last year, committees have met, clubs have formed, and our community has come together in attempt to combat the ongoing problem with suicide.

Last february, our FMHS Student Council decided to revolutionized K.I.C week- (Kindness Is Contagious) a movement originally designed to target bullying, but changed the direction of the week to focus on education and awareness regarding mental health. With this revision, they declared a “Stomp the Stigma week,” actively starting a conversation about suicide prevention and seeking to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. They passed out carnations, made empowering videos, and hired world known speaker Kevin Hines to speak at CMU. This year, they have already began meeting with other schools in the district to plan the upcoming week, which they hope to spread a positive message of kindness coinciding student empowerment. A director of K.I.C, Veniece Miller, stated, “By collaborating with different high schools we have been able to build a stronger network of support not only in one school but throughout the community. Because of this we have been able to reach more students than ever by creating an effective culture of acceptance at our schools.”

Alfter K.I.C week last year, “Break the Silence Club,” was formed. They began working closely with school district suicide prevention efforts and adults. Last year, they developed many solution-based ideas and began a conversation about suicide prevention with student leaders in the school. Member Shani Reis commented,”The ultimate goal of the club is to provide adequate outlets and resources for students to open up about mental health. We want to figure out how we can help the student body. We want everyone to know that anxiety and depression are commonly felt and dealt with among high schoolers, and we want to empower kids to talk about it.” They meet on Fridays, and are currently working on a project that will connect the student body through sharing anonymous experiences with mental health and mental illness to spread the message that we are never alone in our trials and tough experiences in life. They are also looking forward to working alongside Sources of Strength, and the Grand Valley Suicide Youth Advisory Group.

Also, another community effort, derived from students directly impacted by the suicides became the group “Coffee Shop Talk”. Weekly, at Kiln Coffee Bar on Sundays at 6, the community meets in a form of a non-traditional peer support group that focuses on reducing the stigma surrounding conversation about mental health. They have grown tremendously since the start, and now adults, college students and high school students are all actively participating and attending the weekly meetings. The founder of the group, a Grand Junction High School student, Tia Sewell, began this campaign after she lost her father and a close friend to suicide. She, and all that attend the Coffee Shop Talks hope for growth in the organization and awareness alongside education regarding mental health. She said, “The Coffee Shop Talk has been an overwhelmingly positive engagement in my own life. In just a few months time, I have come to know complete strangers more than most of the people whom I have spent every day of the past four years in school with. The capacities of meaningful conversation never cease to amaze me.” The members have also incorporated a weekly, “art start” where someone selects a painting, quote, or other work of art in which the group analyzes and attempts to relate what it represents to each personal life in act to reduce the fear and stigma surrounding vulnerability and state of our mental health.

Likewise, many other committees around Grand Junction have been formed and a lot of action has taken place. Yet, we cannot forget that our community still grieves those losses and questions why people choose to take their lives. In many ways, this challenge in my life has broken my heart for our mourning community and those who live in pain. Ultimately, it changed who many of us are as people, but as we reflect on this experience, let’s see remember passion and action that we have taken as a community. That’s all we can strive for in this crazy, chaotic life, to hope we made a positive impact on someone else through our actions. Moving forward, the community will continue to create positive and proactive change through very painful experiences that have hurt very broken people, but will work to support and impact those who are struggling.

If you are interested in participating in this movement, please contact me at [email protected].


Picture Credit: Riley Trujillo

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