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‘Let’s go beyond our fears of what we can talk about’

Volunteer event puts focus on discussing mental health

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While the individuals, families and friends of people affected by mental health issues have long been aware of the need for open discussion on the topic, only recently have those conversations begun. Centura Health, a former Colorado First Lady and a former Denver Bronco want to change that.

“We want to create a safe space for people to be vulnerable and for people to feel support,” said former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Harris. “Let’s go beyond our fears of what we can talk about and go beyond what it means to be a good neighbor.”

Harris will be the keynote speaker at the Love Matters Most Day of Community Service on Sept. 13 at Mile High Academy, presented by Centura Health, operator of Castle Rock, Littleton, Parker and Porter Adventist Hospitals. The first half of the day will feature a mental health resource fair as well as speeches by Harris and former Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter. The afternoon is scheduled for service projects with eight nonprofits in the south Denver region.

Southeast Community Outreach, one of the groups involved, will fill backpacks with weekend meals for children facing food insecurity. Executive Director Dennis Gorton said he sees families every day dealing with depression caused by financial hardship. He said the backpacks are one way to help prevent the problem for the 33,000 children in the region who rely on schools, and SECOR, for healthy meals.

“The bottom line is that if these kids aren’t eating well, they’re not learning, and it leads to depression,” he said. “It mushrooms.”

Both Gorton and Harris said they’ve had relatives or friends with mental health challenges, and they each said they hope to prevent others from going through what they did as a result. For Gorton, it was his mother, who had undiagnosed bipolar disorder. For Harris, it was Broncos teammate and friend Kenny McKinley, who died by suicide in 2010.

“Anything I can do to prevent anything like that from happening to someone in the community, I’ll do it,” Harris said “If this changes or saves even one life, then it’s been successful.”

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