Several Colorado Springs events scheduled to bring awareness to suicide prevention
"Teen suicide seems to be an issue at every high school in Colorado Springs these days," says Brendan Flewelling, a sophomore at Rampart High School, in Academy School District 20.
"So it's good to raise awareness," he said.
For the past two years, the teen suicide rate in El Paso County has hit record highs. The 14 deaths by suicide of youth through age 17 in 2015 was double the seven in 2014, according to the El Paso County Coroner's Office.
Last year, there were 15, and so far this year, eight adolescents have taken their lives, the coroner's office said Wednesday.
This year's losses have spanned school districts, including Academy School District 20, Colorado Springs School District 11 and Cheyenne Mountain School District 12. Woodland Park School District RE-2 in Teller County also has been impacted.
Community efforts around suicide prevention stepped up last year and are continuing, with several upcoming events that are open to the public.
The Chief's Youth Advisory Council will host a Kids and Cops Dodgeball Tournament, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Coronado High School, 1590 W Fillmore St.
Teens from 14 local dodgeball teams, along with high school resource officers, who are sworn police officers or sheriff's office deputies, will compete in the fundraiser that will benefit Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention.
"We want to get the community involved and have a fun time over such a hard topic," said Brendan, who's on the Chief's Youth Advisory Council. The group includes representatives from local high schools, who meet monthly with the police chief and sheriff to talk about current issues. Suicide, along with law enforcements' relationship with the public, have been this year's topics of focus.
Teens not having the coping skills to handle stress and anxiety when life gets overwhelming is one of the problems Brendan said he's noticed.
"People neglect to think about what their life holds for them because when times get really tough, it's hard to envision yourself in the long-run," Brendan said.
Dharma Whitcomb, a Vista Ridge High School senior, in Falcon School District 49, said it's important to bring awareness to what has become an epidemic.
"Last year we had a girl in our school commit suicide, and it caught everyone by surprise and affected everyone," she said. "It was hard for people to handle."
Dharma will be competing in the dodgeball tournament.
Students hope to raise $10,000 in donations to benefit the nonprofit Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, which hosts support groups for teens and adults who have attempted suicide, families and children left behind by suicide. "Creating an event like this has been shown to be a positive way for teens to 'do something' for suicide prevention without normalizing suicide or adding to contagion," said Executive Director Janet Karnes.
Her organization will conduct teen "think tanks" later this month and in May, she said, in which 150 students will be asked about suicide prevention programs.
Palmer Ridge High School, 9255 Frontage Road in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument, will host a free, mental health presentation at 5 p.m. on April 26 at the school called "Take Charge."
"The prevalence of teen depression and suicide have been breaking my heart for a long time," said head football coach Tom Pulford. "Students and people who are close to me have been directly affected, including the Palmer Ridge football team, and whatever we're doing is not enough. We have to do more."
Pulford recently started a nonprofit organization, Take Charge, which works to equip leaders to help make positive differences in teens' lives.
The event will empower students and parents with knowledge about what they can do to protect themselves from mental health issues, he said. Jaeger Research Institute, Positive Coaching Alliance, El Pomar Foundation, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, Path to Empathy and other programs are involved.
"This issue is multi-layered and multi-faceted, and one spoke on the wheel is teens using devices linked to social media," Pulford said. "It's highly addictive and provides instant gratification, but there are also things that hurt. Studies show the more time they're on social media, the more depression symptoms are prevalent."
Pulford said he's had personal experience with mental illness and knows challenges can be overcome.
St. Patrick Catholic Church, 6455 Brook Park Drive, has had several funerals following completed suicides in recent months, said Steve Schindler, director of youth and young adult ministries.
In response, the church is hosting Roy Petitfils, a licensed counselor at Pax Renewal Center in Lafayette, La. He will speak on "Tackling the Tough Topics: Anxiety, Depression and Suicide." The event will be at 6:15 p.m. on May 7 at the church. A free-will offering will be taken.
Open to the public, the presentation will be geared toward middle and high school students, young adults, parents, grandparents and anyone interested.
Petitfils is described as an engaging speaker, who has worked with youth for more than 20 years as a minister, teacher, school administrator, school counselor and now in private practice.