“The first time I tried to kill myself, I was 11,” Casey McAndrew told the audience during the Stepping up for our Communities event at Arapahoe Community College on May 14.
Today McAndrew is a member of the Children's Hospital Colorado Youth Board, advocating for teens like her who are battling depression and other forms of mental illness. She ultimately got help by reaching out to her family and voluntarily admitting herself into a residential treatment program.
“What's so wrong about going there if that's the only thing that will keep you from killing yourself?” she asked. “Fortunately for me, I had a strong enough relationship with my family and my friends that I was able to ask for help. But I know that not everybody does. There are people who, because they were scared, they killed themselves, and that should not be an option. About a year ago a friend told me that because of my depression, I was too broken for anyone to love me. Three hundred and sixty-four days later, I stand on this stage strong and alive. Thank you.”
Organizers of the daylong event stressed that it was a day about hope, not despair.
“We're inundated by tragedy,” said Brian Turner of Mental Health First Aid Colorado. “It's hard to not get angry and feel negative every day, and forget about all the good work going on out there. Today is about hope. Today is about feeling empowered.”
Then Turner sent the 300 attendees into breakout sessions to learn Mental Health First Aid, which teaches practical methods of dealing with a friend or loved who is exhibiting danger signs.
“If we can talk about it, we can deal with it,” said Sally Spencer-Thomas, who founded the Spencer J. Carson Foundation after her brother killed himself. “As long as we treat it like a mystery, people are fearful.”
Suicide is the most common cause of death for 18- to 34-year-olds in Colorado, said Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, who supports expanding the definition of people who can be involuntarily committed for mental-health treatment.
Five such young people were honored during the event for their submissions to the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health. Cheyenne Jamerson wrote that her depression feels like your shoes are dragging you through the day.
“If you are stuck in gray, I hope you find your rainbow,” she wrote.
Another, Angie Carlie, said her depression spiraled out of control when her peers began making fun of her because her skin was a different color than the parents who adopted her.
“I live in my shadow's presence,” she wrote. “I am not me anymore, I am death walking on two feet.”
Since being diagnosed, Sandy Cohn's perception of her illness has changed. In the beginning, she said, “I imagined it's a lot like expired food, damaged goods, not all there.”
But after treatment replaced her self-medicating methods, she says she's adapted to the downs and learned that the ups are what matters.
“I see it more as a gift from the lessons I was forced to learn,” she wrote. “One day everyone will know my name for immensely changing the world.”
For more information on mental illness or Mental Health First Aid, visit www.admhn.org or www.nami.org. In a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.