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Peterson AFB combats teenage suicide

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Children of active-duty military parents often face a unique set of stressors which, when combined with the everyday pressures of growing up, can prove devastating.

That’s why Michel Cremeans, 21st Space Wing violence prevention integrator, has pulled together a team of community leaders and local teenagers on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, to start an honest conversation about teenage suicide.

“There’s a need out there,” Cremeans said. “From my role as a violence prevention integrator, I want to help provide a variety of opportunities for our community to connect so that we can strengthen those protective factors of belonging and value, and reduce the chances of anyone attempting or considering suicide as an option or the only way out of their pain.”

The efforts began Sept. 12, 2018, when the Peterson AFB Community Action Team showed two documentaries by local high school students – “Surviving,” by Tea Santos, Manitou Springs High School senior, and “Under the Wire” by Madison Legg, Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate – at the Club Main Lounge.

Santos was on hand to answer questions after the film, in which she chronicled her struggles with debilitating depression as part of the 2017 Youth Documentary Academy in Colorado Springs. Col. Todd Moore, 21st SW commander, attended the viewing, along with parents, some of the installation’s mental health providers, and some young Airmen.

“It was an intimate discussion where people could ask questions,” Cremeans said. “We decided, ‘Let’s start a conversation about teenage suicide.’”

The conversation continued Oct. 11, 2018, with “Every Voice Matters: What I Wish You Knew,” hosted at the Tierra Vista Community Center on Peterson AFB. A panel of local teenagers presented the results of a think tank study conducted by Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention; shared personal stories; and offered adults a chance to ask them anything, in the hope it might help them better understand their own child.

“These teenagers were very genuine and matter of fact, telling you what it’s like for them – whether it’s bullying or the effects of social media,” Cremeans said. “It was really insightful.”

Cremeans and Carlos Wade, Peterson AFB youth sports director, are planning to host another event in January 2019 at the gym in the R.P. Lee Youth Center, 100 Selfridge St., Building 1555.

“From talking to parents here, we have kids going through similar things,” Wade said. “Some kids don’t feel they can talk to their parents, or that they haven’t been given the tools to deal with conflict resolution.”

The format will be similar to the last event, featuring a panel of local high school students to offer a teenage perspective on depression and suicide.

“We want to try to get some of our parents to understand, you can’t fix everything,” Wade said. “Just be there. They’ll let you know how you can fix it.”

Cremeans hopes January’s event will reach more parents and, in turn, create more dialogue between teenagers and adults on Peterson AFB.

“This will hopefully generate more understanding, connection and possibly some healing,” she said. “If these conversations start branching out, that would be a dream.”

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