COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KXRM) — Former Air Force and NFL player Ben Garland, along with members of the Denver Broncos organization, are coming together for the second annual “Friday Night Lights: Shining a Light on Mental Health” this week.
The Wingman 63 Foundation scheduled the event for Fri., May 6, beginning at 6 p.m., at Empower Field at Mile High, and is expected to last until 9 p.m. Those who attend can participate in a stair challenge at the stadium under the lights and enjoy a performance from a Nashville recording artist.
Garland, who established the Wingman 63 Foundation to support mental health, veterans and youth, was influenced by his brother to start his journey in combating the stigma around mental health.
“My brother is a doctor, a professor at Arizona State, and if you look at his life on paper, everything is absolutely perfect,” Garland said. “He’s good looking, he’s talented, he’s smart and he’s crushing it. He struggles deeply with anxiety and depression, but he’s been brave enough and courageous enough to talk about it.”
The event Friday was planned to raise awareness on mental health, specifically that in Colorado youth. Garland says 226,000 kids in Colorado are dealing with at least one mental health issue, and only 22% of that number are going to receive proper care.
“Imagine walking up to a playground and seeing 25 kids playing, and five of them have a broken arm, and only one kid is getting actual medical treatment. You’d think that’s insane,” Garland said. “Go help out those other kids. That’s what we want to do and that’s what this event’s about. It’s about helping out those other kids that either aren’t willing to ask for help, or too scared to ask for help, or just don’t know that they need to.
“The sad statistic is that at the age of 10 or above, the leading cause of death for kids in Colorado is suicide, which is a horrendous fact. But the issue is that it is a fact. The kids here are having troubles so we need to reach out and support them, hug them, give them everything they need and let them know that it’s okay to not be okay, but ask for help, because we’ll be here for you.”
Garland says it’s tough fighting the stigma around mental health but that it can be altered if more people decide to join the battle.
“I think we have to change it as a culture and have welcoming arms,” Garland said. “You’ve got to think about it yourself. Are you willing to go tell someone when you have stress or anxiety, or even minor forms of this?
“That same person is going through major depression, major anxiety and panic attacks. A lot of times they’re not willing to talk about it because they’re ashamed, and a lot of times that shame is forcing them into additional isolation, which makes them even more stressed, more anxious and more depressed about what they’re going through.
“I think it’s really important that we open up as a society and culture and show it as a sign of strength when someone opens up to you, not as a sign of weakness.”