At LPS forum, lessons in how to care for each other

Students encouraged to look out for peers, know when to seek help

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It's not up to kids to be each other's therapists.

That was one of the key takeaways from “Ghosted,” a combination stage play and mental health workshop hosted by Littleton Public Schools at Mission Hills Church on Oct. 15.

The play, presented by Kaiser Permanente's Arts Integrated Resource Team, follows four high schoolers each going through their own mental health struggles, who learn how to react to themselves and one another.

The event was the third annual community mental health event hosted by Littleton Public Schools, and district officials hope the yearly meetings are breaking down barriers around talking about youth mental health.

“We're trying to make wellness part of the conversation,” said Christine Casey Perry, the district's mental health resource coordinator. “Part of that is learning to intervene and how to ask questions, but it's also about how to connect people with resources.”

With youth anxiety and depression on the rise, Perry said, a side effect of increased awareness is also increased stress.

“Teens are getting so stressed trying to caretake for their friends that they're getting anxious themselves,” Perry said. “It's not a teen's responsibility to fix their friends' mental health. That's why there are resources and trusted adults and community providers to help care for them.”

“Ghosted,” which was developed by the Seattle Children's Theatre, centers on four kids trying to navigate the choppy waters of mental health care in school.

Each of the characters holds a secret: Liam's mom is an abusive drug addict. Syd has panic attacks after a friend died by suicide. Andre is so overwhelmed by pressure to achieve that he's ready to snap. And Kayla, Andre's girlfriend, is so worried about Andre that she's starting to suffer as well.

As the play progresses, the four learn how to care for one another by asking heartfelt and straightforward questions, but also when to hand off their concerns to the pros.

The play resonated with Elijah Kaiser, a freshman at Heritage High School.

“I've got friends who deal with this sort of thing,” Kaiser said. “I feel like this helped me learn how to talk to them.”

Jeff Kaiser, Elijah's dad, said he likes the idea of being part of a network of resources for struggling kids.

“As a parent, I hope if my kids won't come to me, they can at least come to someone at their school that they trust,” Jeff Kaiser said.

It'll take a village to help kids, said Littleton Public Schools Board of Education member Jim Stephens in remarks to the audience.

“The time is long past when people should be denying the prevalence of mental health struggles in our students, or stigmatizing those who need to seek help,” Stephens said. “We won't make improvements in this area in this community until we face the facts in the mirror and start to have honest discussions about what's going on and what we can do to make it better.”

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