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Suicide Prevention Program Gives Latina Teens Voice Through Art

By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) - Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults in Colorado, according to the 2014-2015 report from the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention. Latina teens have an alarmingly high rate of suicide attempts.

Now one group is trying to change that with the help of adult mentors and art. The program is run by the Mental Health Center of Denver. It is called Voz y Corazon, which means voice and heart.

"We're trying to help our young people feel like they can express both what's going on with them, but also what's in their heart," said Michelle Tijerina, Program Coordinator of Voz y Corazon.

Latina Suicide (1)
(credit: CBS)

It's an effort to open communication and change the stigma of mental illness especially for Latinas. The program was started 13 years ago and was designed by teens for teens.

"Latina youth, specifically female, are at the highest risk for actually attempting suicide," said Tijerina.

So a group of young Latinas joined Denver community leaders. They came up with the suicide prevention program that includes a weekly support group, mentors and art for at risk adolescents to express themselves.

Latina Suicide
CBS4's Kathy Walsh interviews Sandra Gonzalez-Tapia (credit: CBS)

"I think it saved my sister's life," Sandra Gonzalez-Tapia told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

The 17-year-old explained that, four years ago, her sister was being bullied at school and attempted suicide. It shook her whole family and they turned to Voz y Corazon.

"I was able to just take all out my anger, my sadness, my happiness everything and put it all on that artwork. It was amazing," said Gonzalez-Tapia.

Graphic Designer Kieran James McLaughlin says he struggled as a transgender kid.

"I was dealing with being suicidal since the age of 12," McLaughlin said.

Latina Suicide  (1)
Kieran James McLaughlin (credit: CBS)

The artist now works with the youth at Voz y Corazon. He supports them as both an artist and mentor and is thankful the suicide prevention program now helps, not just Latinas, but all youth.

"I wish I'd had this when I was growing up, so, I want to be there," he said.

You can help support youth suicide prevention at the 12th annual Voz y Corazon Art Show & Benefit on Saturday, June 11 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be held at the Mental Health Center of Denver Dahlia Campus for Health & Wellbeing, 3401 Eudora Street in Denver. Enjoy an evening of music, appetizers, a silent auction & artwork created by members of Voz y Corazon.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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