brittnidarras
Brittni Darras

 

An atypical community champion is the recipient of this year’s Hero of Mental Health award, given annually for the past nine years by mental health provider AspenPointe.
Rampart High School English teacher Brittni Darras will accept the award at a luncheon Thursday at The Broadmoor. The event starts at 11:30 a.m. and features author Mark Norwine as the keynote speaker.
Tickets are $50 and are still available; call 572-6100 or go to http://www.aspenpointe.org/ heroes.
Widefield School District 3 student Jaxon Dees also will be recognized for winning a teen video contest. His rap video is about a friend who committed suicide and about suicide prevention. Jaxon will receive a $500 prize, and his video will be seen on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “The Voice.”
The event also will include a 1-mile suicide awareness walk with Norwine, starting at 4 p.m. Thursday at Community Prep School, 332 E. Willamette Ave., followed by a showing of the documentary, “Walking Man,” which features Norwine. The event is free and open to the public.
Darras, a Colorado Springs native, is being honored for her idea to write individual letters to each of her students in the spring after a rash of teen suicides.

After she found out that one of her students attempted to commit suicide, she said she felt helpless that she hadn’t seen any warning signs. So she decided to write a letter to the student, in the hopes it would help in the recovery process.

Darras then thought, “Why stop there?” She decided to write personal notes to all 130 students in her classes in Academy School District 20, emphasizing her appreciation for each individual student and how differences should be embraced.
Her letters drew national and international media attention, from “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show to The Washington Post.
A person connected to the mental health community is normally selected for the honor, said J.P. Arnold, spokesman for AspenPointe.
In choosing Darras, the organization’s president and chief executive, Mick Pattinson, said her act of compassion was inspiring, and he encouraged others to follow her example.
“Anyone can make a positive difference,” he said. “It takes awareness, a caring attitude and follow-through.”
Proceeds from the luncheon will support the local Youth Mental Health First Aid training program, which helps identify early signs to prevent youth suicides.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among youths ages 10-17 in Colorado, according to the Child Fatality Prevention System 2016 Legislative Report.
In the Pikes Peak region, the teen suicide rate has been increasing at what many call an alarming rate, with 14 deaths in 2015, up from seven in 2014. This year so far, 13 youths have taken their lives.
Youth Mental Health First Aid is a one-day training program that helps identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
The Youth MHFA course is free because expenses are paid by fundraisers and donors.
Last year’s Heroes event raised more than $14,000 toward the educational prevention effort.