Here’s why advocates want Colorado students to ask the questions at a candidate forum on mental health

“Kids are in some ways the best champions because they’re the closest to this issue.”

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A student at Lumberg Elementary School in Edgewater raises her hand for assistance while students work on their iPads. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A student at Lumberg Elementary School in Edgewater raises her hand for assistance while students work on their iPads. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

By Ann SchimkeChalkbeat

When seven candidates for governor take the stage at a Denver forum on mental health next month, they’ll answer questions from Colorado residents who may still have braces and learner’s permits.

Students, that is.

Leaders of Mental Health Colorado, the advocacy group organizing the candidate forum on March 23, say they’re soliciting student questions because many young people already understand the impact of mental health problems.

“Kids are in some ways the best champions because they’re the closest to this issue,” said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “Even if they’re not old enough to vote, they’re old enough to have a say.”

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and several school districts in the state have grappled with multiple student suicides in recent years.

Mental Health Colorado is asking middle school, high school, and college students to submit questions in advance of the event. The lunchtime forum will also feature some questions from adults.

Romanoff said the recent high school shooting in Florida by a 19-year-old with a long history of disturbing behavior has raised awareness about mental health issues, but doesn’t provide an accurate picture of how people coping with mental health problems behave.

“Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they’re more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator,” he said.

There are “a lot of folks now saying we have to do something about mental health, and we welcome their support,” he said. “I don’t want to suggest that that alone will solve the nation’s gun violence crisis.”

So far, the gubernatorial candidates who have committed to attending the forum include Democrats Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg, and Erik Underwood, and Republicans Victor Mitchell, Cynthia Coffman, Lew Gaiter and Stephen Barlock.

To submit questions for the candidates, students can email deargovernor@mentalhealthcolorado.org. The deadline for submissions is March 19. For more information about the forum, visit the event page.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.