Valley High School gets mental health “first-aid kit”

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As Reggie Burton walked through the hallways of UNLV’s Student Recreation Center, he recalled it being a place he’s grown familiar with because his son Avery worked there as a student

“Avery was the type of kid that every parent would want,” Burton said. 

Avery had dreams of becoming a doctor, but they were cut short on July 24, 2017 when he committed suicide.  It happened just two months after graduation.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be standing with you talking about my son in the past tense,” Burton shared. “Outside he looked physically strong and emotionally healthy, but inside there was a war going on.”

Avery’s death contributes to startling statistics released by the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. According to the report, from 2017 to 2018, the rates of young people committing suicide almost doubled.

Ramona Esparza and Thomas Smith are the principal and assistant principal of Valley High School, one of eight schools nationwide recently chosen for a pilot program called, ‘Mental Health First Aid.’ 

The program was founded by Cynthia Germanotta and her famous daughter, Lady Gaga. The program’s goal is to teach students and teachers how to identify signs of mental illness and substance abuse.

“The worst feeling and fear is when we know our students are in crisis,” expressed Ramona Esparza, the principal of Valley High School.

“It worries us all the time that we missed some kids,” expressed Thomas Smith, the high school’s assistant principal. “It also lets them know that it’s okay; that they’re not alone.”

The entire Valley High School senior class was inspired to “Be Brave.”

Because as Burton knows, depression can live anywhere and it can affect anyone.

That’s the thing about depression,” Burton said. “Avery hid his depression from us. Depression; I use the analogy; it’s like a thief that lurks in the shadows of darkness. When you least expect it, it jumps out and robs you.”

Principal Esparza says she’s already seen a positive impact come from the program. Currently, there are plans for the ‘Born This Way’ Foundation to continue a partnership with Valley High.

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