Two years ago, Palmer Ridge football coach Tom Pulford started the “Take Charge” nonprofit. The mission of the 501(c)(3) is to equip and empower leaders to take charge and take action to improve all teenage lives.
Pulford will spearhead a Take Charge event March 13 at Palmer Ridge High School that will include high school and college football coaches, as well as former Palmer Ridge star quarterback Ty Evans, and Mike Donahue of ValueUp, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reaching out and enriching the lives of young people.
The event will take place from 5:30-9 p.m. It is free and designed for kids ages 10 and older.
“Back in 2017, the high suicide rate among teenagers in El Paso County absolutely broke my heart,” Pulford said. “That prompted me to start Take Charge as a way to reach kids where they are and to talk about some of the things in their lives that are stressors.”
Pulford is well aware of the ups and downs facing teenagers in our increasingly fast-paced society. He is also open about sharing his journey with his bipolar disorder, also called manic depression. His first major episode occurred when he was in college. His most recent manic episode came to light in January.
“When you’re manic you can make decisions really quickly, and one of the most interesting things is that I made a lot of really good decisions,” Pulford said. “It’s up to me to govern and control things, but there were some people who approached me and said they have concerns about me.”
Pulford took action and sought treatment to help with the ups and downs associated with his condition. But he is aware that many teens who deal with bipolar disorder, or the pressures of life, such as stressful family situations, performance-based achievement or rejection by peers, can be overwhelming and lead teens to make unhealthy decisions that often times lead to suicide.
“My desire to put more energy into Take Charge has always been there,” Pulford said. “Having a couple weeks off to deal with some of my own stuff helped me to put those ideas back into action.”
In January, state attorney general Cynthia H. Coffman released a report that stated while death by suicide among 19- to 24-year-olds in El Paso County has been declining since reaching a high in 2014, the number doubled among those 18 and under.
Suicide deaths in the 10-18 age group jumped from 24 in 2012-2014 to 48 in 2015-2017. Contributing factors, the study said, included desensitization to the value of life, a large gap between today’s teens and adults, cyberbullying and pressure to perform, Coffman noted.
Pulford believes parents need to be proactive in telling their kids to limit their time on social media, or turn it off altogether. Pulford has an idea to develop a Take Charge app that would allow kids struggling with mental health to get in touch with professionals who can walk beside that person and get them the help they need.
“I want to start specifically with bipolar type 2 (disorder) and start small and do it right, but I can see it multiplying and helping other people,” Pulford said. “Here’s the deal, people don’t get help with mental issues because there’s a stigma around it. There’s a, ‘Don’t tell your mom. Don’t tell your boss.’ So, if you have an app on your phone with geographic locations and you need help, and that help is on the other side, you can get in touch with someone who can help you.”
For more information on “Take Charge,” email Pulford at Tpulford@lewispalmer.org.