Aztec students hear address on mental health

Joshua Kellogg

AZTEC — A representative of the state Attorney General’s Office spoke to Aztec students today about the stigma associated with mental health issues and suicide.

Erica Davis of the state Attorney General's Office talks to students about mental health awareness and suicide prevention on Wednesday at the County Administration Building in Aztec.

The presentation was one of the events that took place as part of County Government Day at the San Juan County offices here.

Joni Kelsey, a county graphic design and media specialist, said the event was held to educate students about county government. She said county officials learned of an opportunity to have someone speak from the office of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, and Erica Davis was invited.

Davis, a special projects coordinator for the Community Outreach Division of the AG's Office, gave two presentations to groups of Aztec middle and high school students about suicide prevention and mental health.

She talked to students about a number of topics, including discussing how mental health illnesses like ADHD and depression can affect someone, while providing information on the warning signs of suicide ideation. Davis also encouraged students to provide emotional support to their fellow students.

Statistics shared by Davis as part of her presentation showed that New Mexico had the sixth-highest youth suicide rate in the nation in 2013 and has ranked in the top 10 since 1995, according to the New Mexico Health Department. Suicide was the second-leading cause of death for New Mexicans between the age of 10 and 24 in 2013.

Freshman Riley Groth, front, and other Aztec High School students react during a presentation by Erica Davis of the state Attorney General's office on Wednesday at the County Administration Building in Aztec.

Before heading back to school, some Aztec students said Davis’ presentation made an impression on them, and they would try to be more friendly and less judgmental toward their classmates.

Sophomore Brooke McMinn said she enjoyed Davis’ presentation and felt a connection to her that she normally doesn’t feel with speakers who visit Aztec High School.

“She’s somebody you can relate to and talk to her about actual problems,” McMinn said. “She’s really open for anything you have to talk about.”

A large portion of Davis’ presentation was dedicated to addressing the stigma that is associated with mental health issues. She challenged students to share words they think of when terms like jock, teenagers and mental health are used. When talking about mental health, students shouted terms like odd, weird, awkward and sad.

Helping students overcome the stigma that mental health issues often carry is very important to Davis.

Erica Davis of the state Attorney General's Office says she hopes students learn that it is all right to struggle with mental health issues and to ask for help.

“It’s the biggest thing because people don’t want to get help because they don’t want to be known as crazy,” Davis said after her presentation.

She said she hopes students learn that it is all right to struggle sometimes, and they can ask for help when they need it.

Mandy Martes, the Koogler Middle School student council adviser, said she was happy to see Davis discuss some of the warning signs of suicide with students. She said it could help them recognize the warning signs they or their friends might be showing.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.