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AURORA, Colo. — After several recent student suicides, high school coaches in Colorado will now be required to take a course in mental health and suicide prevention due to a new mandate from the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) board of directors.

Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows 31% of high school students reported depression symptoms in 2017 and 17% seriously considered suicide.

High school athletes build special bonds with their coaches, who are sometimes the first person a student turns to for help. That is something CHSAA wants to build upon.

“Multiple incidents, as you know in the media, have occurred in our state that made us feel we need to be more intentional as a state association to lead the charge to expanding some awareness,” Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said.

She said CHSAA’s Sports Advisory Committee came up with the mandate and heavily recommended it to the board, which adopted it.

The National Federation of High School Sports offers the 20-minute course online and it’s free. Some school districts also offer courses in mental health, which also meet the new requirement.

“Truly, the course is about making coaches aware [of] seeing some of the warning signs and then kind of how to report those certain things to the next level or to reach out immediately for help for a kid in crisis,” Blanford-Green said.

CHSAA’s goal is to open up the conversation and give coaches information about resources to help kids without putting too much pressure on the coaches.

“We do not want to place our coaches in a position to be diagnostic in any way. We just need them to be aware because coaches’ relationships with students is oftentimes the first person that sees that,” said Blanford-Green.

CHSAA leaders say athletics is second to the mental health and well-being of its athletes.

“Our focus is really making sure the high school experience for our students in Colorado — they walk away with that caring component,” Blanford-Green said.

The organization has had many coaches already take the course, and so far, it says the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.