With suicide rates among veterans continuing to increase, especially during the pandemic, a group of Highlands Ranch teens came together to help educate and inform in the name of prevention. Colorado …
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With suicide rates among veterans continuing to increase, especially during the pandemic, a group of Highlands Ranch teens came together to help educate and inform in the name of prevention. Colorado Community Media caught up with Mountain Vista High School junior Bella Lewis to discuss their efforts and what they learned from the experience.
How did you get involved?
There is certainly no shortage of problems worldwide, but there are also a great many things that we can do to address, and perhaps begin to ease, the issues. As students, we have the means to directly impact the world because of our vast access to media platforms, schools, and other news sources. HOSA — Future Health Professionals is a professional student organization for those interested in pursuing further education and careers in any area of health or biomedical sciences. HOSA provides opportunities for both high school and post-secondary students to compete in a variety of events at the local, state, and international level. The Community Awareness event is a teamwork project that requires students to understand the problems facing members of the community.
Why did you choose to help veterans?
This is exactly what my team, including Rock Canyon High School students Kimberly Whitmore and Alice Sun, have been doing. When we first began exploring ideas for a topic, we were astonished and deeply troubled by the statistic that one Veteran dies by suicide every hour. This is a devastating reality, and ultimately inspired us to pursue our research and undertake our journey to help veterans affected by mental health issues.
We found that in our home state of Colorado, the suicide rate for veterans is much higher than the national average. Furthermore, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the suicide rate has increased by 20%.
What did you do to address the issues?
We partnered with Veteran Affairs Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, the American Legion Auxiliary, the Veterans Coalition of the San Luis Valley, the American Legion, and Project Sanctuary. With the help of our partners, we have been able to distribute brochures, posters, infographics, and bookmarks that were placed throughout the community, including veteran support locations. One of our most effective and impactful outreach events was the retreat we attended with Project Sanctuary. We worked together to help veterans and their families find resources they could use immediately.
What did you learn?
My teammates and I spoke to many veterans and their families. Not only did we share information with the veterans and their families, but also, and most importantly, we were able to listen to, and learn from, these men and women. One of the veterans who was in attendance mentioned that we made a profound impact on him, and that it was amazing to see how we could bring hope and aid to other people. This event is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It had a deep and profound impact on my perception of our project, as well as the critical importance of addressing the issues of mental health awareness and veteran suicide prevention. This project has not only impacted the people that my team and I have been able to reach but has helped to shape our perceptions regarding veteran suicide and mental health in general. We now see just how important this issue is, and we are committed to continuing this project.
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