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What your kids wish you knew

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

April is the month of the military child, designated to honor the experiences and sacrifices of the children of service members.

It’s hard being young, and teenagers all too often feel like nobody understands. To help overcome that perceived communication gap between parents and their teens, violence prevention integrator Michel Cremeans and the Community Action Team brought in a group called Deep Roots, the teen board branch of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, to host a panel conversation at the R.P. Lee Youth Center on March 1, 2019.

The event, called “Every Voice Matters: What I Wish You Knew,” featured five teens sharing their experiences with mental illness, suicidal thoughts, hospitalization and other issues, presented with support from an adult facilitator.

“These teens are sharing so much of themselves,” said Cremeans. “They're being vulnerable in front of strangers. Some of them struggle with anxiety, so it was a lot for them to even be there. But that's how much they want to give back. They want people to know, and they want things to get better.”

That’s particularly important in El Paso County. On January 3, 2019, Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman released a study called Community Conversations to Inform Youth Suicide Prevention. It showed that the suicide rate for 10-to-18-year-olds in El Paso County has doubled, growing from 24 between 2012 and 2014 to 48 between 2015 and 2017, a figure that prompted Coffman to declare youth suicide a public health crisis.

The study outlined seven major risk factors: pressure and anxiety about failing, social media and cyberbullying, lack of prosocial activities, lack of connection to a caring adult, judgement and lack of acceptance in the community, substance use, mental health disorders and trauma history, and adult suicides in the community.

Military children face additional stressors. Deployments can strain the relationship between a service member and their child, and PCS orders make it difficult for children to form support networks within their peer groups.

One takeaway Cremeans noted was the panelists’ need to feel heard by their families.

“One panelist said that feeling supported is a topic that is never talked about,” said Cremeans. “She was struggling with mental illness but there was no one to talk to, because in her family no one talks about that.”

The event drew around 40 attendees, said Cremeans. She characterizes the audience response as positive — they took the teens seriously and asked a range of questions about gender dynamics, voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations and more.

Cremeans hopes to host the panel again with support from Peterson AFB Youth Programs.

“If parents are looking for youth counseling resources, there are Military and Family Life Counselors available,” said Cremeans. “They are experienced, licensed mental health professionals that can provide non-medical services to members and their families.”

The MFLC counselors can be reached by phone at 719-433-2671 or 719-433-5432.

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