“Don’t let a negative thought end your life.”
“There is nothing wrong in feeling sad.”
“Your story is yet to begin; don’t end it in a moment’s haste.”
Atlas Preparatory High School student Yesenia Cruz Garduno thought of these inspirational messages to offer to peers who may be feeling stress, anxiety or depression from the strangeness of life with the coronavirus, and turning to substances or self-harm to cope.
“My goal is to let people of all cultures and ethnicities know that mental health is real, and in times of crisis it is always best to get help, even if it means going against what you were taught, because your well-being is up to you when you need help,” she said.
Yesenia is one of 40 youth leaders across Colorado deployed to create a new marketing campaign geared toward teens feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic.
The messages being developed direct youths in need of mental health or substance-use assistance to Colorado Crisis Services, managed by the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health.
The state’s crisis line received nearly 50% more calls and texts in March over last year — a record high — indicating to mental health officials that an influx of teens needing guidance and care could be coming, officials said.
“We know it is an isolating time for Coloradans, and for many, the stress may lead to anxiety, depression or an increased reliance on substances,” Robert Werthwein, director of the Office of Behavioral Health, said in a statement.
Teens participating in the campaign are members of the Below the Surface Youth Leadership Program. The initiative of Colorado Crisis Services uses teens to customize mental health and substance prevention messages, and manage outreach campaigns in their schools and communities.
Before the pandemic, Yesenia had hung several posters at Atlas Prep, a charter school in Harrison School District 2, and around Colorado Springs. She handed out pens and business cards at events and talked to teens about mental health and suicide awareness.
Now the task is to focus on mental health effects from coronavirus by building new slogans and finding new ways to spread the word about the crisis line through social media and other avenues, Yesenia said.
As one of the ad generators, she said she is “trying to let people know the crisis line is there when you need it.”
Conversations via texts and phone calls to the hotline — 1-844-493-TALK or text TALK to 38255 — are confidential.
Rampart High School student Caitlyn Tabeling also is thinking of slogans and designs for the new campaign.
“In light of the current mental health crisis teens are facing, I think it is so crucial and so vital that we provide them with resources so that they know there is always someone willing to support and listen to them,” she said.
A lot of teens are being impacted by the pandemic as school closures have removed the typical support systems teens rely on heavily, Caitlyn said.
“We are aiming to promote this text support line so it can act as a replacement until teens can have access to their same support systems again,” she said.
Yesenia is creating her slogans in English and Spanish to reach a wide audience of teens, she said.
She’s also promoting the idea that cultural and religious beliefs shouldn’t stop adolescents from asking for help in a mental health crisis, stressful situation or possible suicide attempt.
“Now, more than ever, young people need to help one another and themselves,” Yesenia said.
“Many of us had our lives flipped upside down within a 12-hour time period. High school athletes didn’t know months of hard work would go down the drain before the season even started,” she said. “Seniors are losing their opportunity to walk the stage, first-generation high school graduates are feeling they lost one of the biggest pieces in their life of making their families proud.
“Everyone is stuck and many of us are struggling to cope with the change.”
But many young people don’t know about the crisis line and how to reach it when they need help, Yesenia said.
Teens do not have to be on the verge of suicide to ask for help, she added. Problems with stress, anxiety, depression, family issues and others can be addressed as well.
Concerns about potential teen suicide attempts continued to top the list of calls and texts in March to the Safe2Tell safety hotline, 1-877-542-7233 or on a phone app, run by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
With schools being closed for half of last month, calls decreased by 13% over March 2019, officials said Tuesday. Coronavirus-related complaints, such as business noncompliance with coronavirus closures, topped 100 calls, which should be directed to county health departments or the attorney general’s coronavirus page.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.