Recognizing and working on teen mental health issues

You might call it the Boulder County paradox — our metrics for income and education are off the charts, our schools are highly rated and we have a culture that embraces fitness.

Yet a subset of teenagers are suffering. According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, teens who attend Boulder Valley schools are twice as likely to be hospitalized for self harm or attempted suicide than for injuries from auto accidents. The rate is double, in some instances triple for lesbian, gay or bisexual youth

“Boulder has an image of perfection: Everybody’s family is perfect. Kids are high achievers,” said Trina Faatz, a member of the Substance Use Advisory Group, which includes community members and professionals working to stem substance abuse problems among Boulder County teens. Her own daughter, Mila Long, is in recovery from heroin addiction. But addiction is not the only mental health problem teens in Boulder County deal with.

“There is a huge amount of cutting in BVSD,” she said, “a huge amount of eating disorders. It’s having control over part of your life. How much (your life) hurts is how much you do it.”

Avani Dilger, who has worked with teens for 15 years as a founder of Natural Highs, said many are hurting.

“Anxiety and depression are so much worse,” she said.

Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder, said that protections passed at the state level are heartening for members of the LGBQ community, but the picture remains dark at the federal level, leading to a climate that is bound to impact young people.

“It sets the stage (for thinking) you’re not good enough, something’s wrong with you,” she said. “What do you do with that when you’re a kid?”

by Cindy Sutter