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Student Testifies on Lack of Mental Health Resources in Denver Public Schools

The Colorado Youth Congress, an organization that trains diverse communities of young people to lead systems change, has been working closely with students for a Mental Health Campaign. Daijah Mijares-Morales, a student at DSST College View High School courageously testified to the Denver School Board in May on the issue of the lack of mental health resources in DPS. Below you will find Daijah’s shared testimony and moving story.

Hello, my name is Daijah Mijares-Morales. I currently attend DSST College View High School and I am a member of the CYC mental health campaign. As a young latina woman I was raised rather to be quiet and reserved, however I quickly learned that in order to see the change I want to have in my community I would need to use my voice, and so I did. Coincidentally, it came naturally to me. Which is why I am talking about this today to inform you that it is not a problem anymore. It is a mental health crisis that without any counter-action, will impact so many lives like it has impacted mine.

DSST College View was the school to go to in Southwest Denver, and you were considered lucky if you got admitted. So you can imagine how I felt when I got accepted. Even though it took me awhile to adjust to the atmosphere, I later learned that in order to “succeed” you had to ignore your own health and well-being. A minor sacrifice it seemed at the time. No big deal. It wasn’t uncommon to see students giving up and not show up for class for the rest of the day. It also wasn’t uncommon to see someone struggle with emotional troubles either.

Consequently, that action proved to be a severe issue, as every student’s story was not seen and was not considered as important as a report card.

Alongside my fellow peers, I too was struggling with depression and anxiety disorder, which eventually lead me to seek for help in school. I went and confided with my advisor, and although she was there to lend her time, she was not qualified to help me in that aspect. Afterwards, I was referred to the one counselor we had. I was told I would have someone to talk to frequently, although that never happened. And instead I was left alone. For multiple reasons I believe such as scheduling, limited amount of staff, and the numerous quantity of students, accessibility became an issue that many people faced.

However, the school environment did nothing to alleviate my emotional pain but instead was extremely toxic. The visible focus on their reputation overweighed the fact that there were other problems occurring within the student’s emotional health. The lack of mental health support being one of the main reasons.

As time went on, my depression got worse and I would self-harm frequently that I forgot what it felt like to feel something other than the pain I inflicted upon myself. I felt so numb that I would think that I was already dead. I felt lost and alone, and I felt there was only one solution to never feel this pain ever again.

That night, I wrote what seemed to be the longest letter, making sure to thank my mom for everything she had ever done for me. I reminded my mom that she would survive this, and that I loved her so much regardless of anything. I told her that it wasn’t her fault, that it was something wrong with me. My tears stained the freshly written paper, as the next instances became a blur.

Her words “you’re going to be okay” are now the only memory I have of that night. Besides the way she held me as if I were about to slip away. I never understood if she was reassuring me or reassuring herself. I’d rather not know.

After a long search for support, my mom and I found a counseling center near our home, regardless of our financial and transportational troubles. It was difficult at first, to get used to using healthy coping mechanisms and expressing my emotions. Nonetheless I am forever thankful to have found the counselor I have now, and to be able to say that I have grown as an individual and as an advocate for people facing the problems I faced. I have been “clean” for a long time now, and can say that I am glad to be alive. Even in the bad days. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would live to get to this point of my life, and even be apart of the beginning of such meaningful change.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 in Colorado, and to me that means that there is hope for better preventative measures, more in-school resources, and more awareness instead of stigma around this issue. This work is for all the people who are in my shoes currently. If I would have received the reassurance from a mental health professional, my situation wouldn’t have gotten to that extent. As I wish that no one else goes through a similar instance, I want people to know that I understand and I am with you. You will get through this, and you are worth more than you know.

The ongoing fight for better mental health reinforcement will forever be one of my main goals as a student but also as a young adult. The obstacles and hardships to come, only prove the urgency and essentiality this cause has in our communities. There needs to be more engagement and conversation about this growing crisis and it all starts now.