FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Depression and anxiety are two conditions on the rise among adolescents. Suicide rates have quadrupled among teens in the last decade. Because of this problem, unique programs across the country are providing outlets for kids battling depression.
Tracey Cookman is the founder of Charis Youth Ranch, a program designed to connect kids and young adults from all walks of life with their horses.
"Horses were always a safe place for me,” Cookman said. "They have always been part of my life. I believe horses are intuitive. They can read the room and pick up on your emotions and what you're feeling.”
Charis Youth Ranch is a place where broken horses go to heal.
"On average it's 110,000 U.S. horses are sent to slaughter every year,” Cookman said. "And then we turned our focus to racehorses, and from there we took on a case-by-case basis horse who had nowhere to go."
Cookman said the way these horses heal is through therapy, rehabilitation and working with the youth who may be dealing with depression or anxiety.
"We are a sanctuary for kids and horses, and that is what we try to provide through the programs,” Cookman said. "Just by nature and interacting with the horses and communicating with the horse and being a worthy leader to the horse, the kids will gain confidence and that anxiety will drop down."
Depression is on the rise among teens. Data shows that there was a nearly 14% increase in major depressive episodes among teens in 2021. That's an increase of 260,000 cases from the previous year.
"I have anxiety and being with the horses eases my anxiety a lot,” said Emma Cookman, the daughter of Tracy and who also has been involved with the program. “It kind of just disappears into nothing when I'm with the horses. That helps me a lot, and when I had a bad day, I’ll go out with the horses and just hang out with them.”
Because of the increase in mental health disorders among teens, there are many places like letting it be known they are available to be outlets for teens and use their program as a type of therapy to cope with their depression or anxiety.
"The horses have laid a pretty strong foundation for me,” said Hope Oleski, who also uses the program. “Each time I hang out with a horse they lay down a brick on a wall for me to be stronger and believe in myself more. So every horse I meet leaves a big imprint on me 'cause they're so full of emotion."
Cookman hopes other programs will bring more awareness to the resources they provide to help the youth battle their depression and anxiety.
"Being able to share with the kids of the horse’s brokenness, the kids connect with that and it provides healing,” Cookman said.