Teens HOPEfull to drive out the stigma of mental health

Youth-led HOPEfull Drive takes place Jan. 21 to Feb. 10


Hundreds of teens are using the HOPEfull Drive as a tool to prevent teen suicide and end the stigma that surrounds teen depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

“Not a lot of people realize it’s a prevalent issue,” said Abbie McAdams, a junior at Wheat Ridge High School. “There’s not a lot of resources to address the seriousness of the pressures on teens.”

These pressures, she added, include academic grades, sports and other extracurricular activities and even social media.

“Teens feel like they have to create an image online to make themselves feel self-worth,” McAdams said.

McAdams and four of her peers from area high schools gathered in downtown Golden on Jan. 26 to participate in the HOPEfull Drive. The drive is a three-week effort organized by the Robbie’s Hope Foundation to raise awareness about teen mental health issues. A fundraiser, but more importantly a way to start dialogue, the drive began on Jan. 21 and will continue through Feb. 10. During this time, groups of teens will spend their free-time and weekends canvassing neighborhoods and public areas across the metro area to start a conversation with the general public.

“Every time we talk about it, the stigma is reduced,” said Isabella Hunt, a sophomore at Golden High School. “Our outreach is going to change things. Addressing it, and sticking with it, is going to have a long-term impact.”

Robbie’s Hope Foundation got its start following the Oct. 11, 2018, death of 15-year-old Robbie, a sophomore at Lakewood High School — a student who got good grades and was actively involved with swimming, tennis and golf.

“There was a broad group of Jeffco students who were affected” by his death, said Jason Eckert, Robbie’s dad who found the organization along with his wife Kari.

HOPEgroups — standing for Hold On Pain Ends — began to form among teens in Jefferson County, as well as across Colorado and in other states.

The first few meetings offered the teens healing and a place for “trying to understand,” Eckert said, and in the course of the past three months, the teens have taken on an activist role to “start dialogue about preventing teen suicide, and address depression and anxiety.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.” In addition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website states, “more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die … Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are treated in emergency departments across the U.S. for self-inflicted injuries.”

By empowering teens with the tools and resources they need for student-led activism, Robbie’s Hope Foundation strives to meet a 10-year goal of cutting teen suicide in half by the year 2028, Eckert said.

Kristyn Kennedy, a senior at Lakewood High School, got involved with Robbie’s Hope because she wanted to do her part in preventing the loss of another peer, she said.

HOPEgroups provide a safe place for teens who want to listen, Kennedy said. “It’s nice knowing there’s people who support you.”

Everybody — teachers and staff at schools, other teens and the general public — should understand and know how to deal with mental health issues among youth, said Brianna Fay, a sophomore at Ralston Valley High School.

“It’s important to have not only an adult to go to,” Fay said, “but also a friend.”


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