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CU College of Nursing student Lenae Aragon

Sister’s Death Puts Student on Path to Nursing

UCAN Student Wants to Be an Advocate for Mental Health

Written by Molly Smerika on December 8, 2023

Lenae Aragon openly admits she’s struggled with her mental health since she was young. A big part of this had to do with the death of her sister Sabrina, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 16. Her sister struggled with mental health before she passed away.

“This was something that impacted myself, my family, our friends, and our community. My sister was a very loved person,” Aragon says. “Many people struggled terribly after her death. The pain was so great that some people resorted to addiction to cope with the trauma and grief they experienced.”

Aragon received mental health services as a child, and says her parents always advocated to get her the help and resources she needed. She says mental health is a topic that can sometimes be taboo in the Hispanic community.

“I’m glad my parents were open to me getting help, even though it was something they were not familiar with,” she says. “I felt like the interventions I received when I was young and struggling with all these intense, overwhelming emotions really helped me to grow up and cope with the trauma and loss that I experienced. It was hard growing up and not being able to fully regulate or understand my feelings of anger and sadness.”

Her journey so far has inspired her to advocate for other people who may be experiencing personal struggles with mental health, especially adolescents.

“The more I grew up, the more I understood why mental health treatment and services were so important. From a very young age, I knew I wanted to work in a career that focused on improving mental health,” she says. “I feel eternally grateful for all the people and providers who were involved in my care and helped me through difficult times in my life. Now in return, I want to be somebody who is there for people and helps them through what may be some of the most difficult times in their lives.”

A Love for Science and Medicine

“In addition to being passionate about mental health, I’ve always had an admiration for science and medicine,” Aragon says. “I also knew that I wanted to work in a career that allowed me to build meaningful relationships with others.”

Aragon's path to nursing was solidified when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 during the pandemic. Her condition was so severe that she was hospitalized for several days. “Being hospitalized helped me see first-hand how nursing perfectly combined all of my passions and interests,” she says. “This experience made me realize that this was the career I wanted to go into.”

“It opened my eyes to the nursing shortage as well,” she continued. “I knew I was going into the field with a mindset of ‘You’re going to be challenged in this career, but you’ll genuinely be helping others. It will be worth the challenges you will face’.”

Prior to enrolling in the University of Colorado College of Nursing’s Accelerated BS in Nursing (UCAN) program, Aragon earned a BS in Biology from Metropolitan State University. She took a few years off between programs to save money to help pay for nursing school.

“I heard that professors and faculty at CU Nursing were very supportive and encouraging,” she says. “And I think that’s what really sold me on the college because I knew if I was learning so much in such a short amount of time, I would need a lot of support to get through this program.”

She says it took her a while to get back into the habit of classes and studying.

“The program was very fast paced. It was shocking at first, and I struggled figuring out a good routine,” she admits. “I really had to get my ducks in a row. I learned how to study efficiently and consistently use critical thinking. I’m grateful I learned these skills and I know they will help me in my career.”

Aragon says CU Nursing faculty are willing to help students understand the concepts of their class as well as the real-life aspects of nursing. She says she benefitted from professors who were available to meet with her and offer their support.

“We’re here to pass exams, but our professors give us advice and guide us to what nursing will really be like in the field,” she says. “I’ve never had a bad encounter with any professor. It’s very apparent they’re dedicated to supporting students. They are invested in us, and the impact we will have in the field.”

The UCAN program made Aragon realize she needed to focus more on her work-life balance and self-care. She says being able to recognize signs of burnout is important.

“My advice is remember, you’ve made it into this program for a reason. You’re smart and strong enough to do this,” she says. “You’re going to feel supported at CU Nursing. Never doubt your abilities or feel like you don’t belong here. I feel like people going into the program should hear this from someone who has gone through the program and made it to the other side – you’re going to be okay.”

A Future in Treating Mental Health

Aragon’s future plans include working at the VA or Children’s Hospital Colorado after graduation. Eventually, she wants to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and earn her NP through CU Nursing.

She says she wants to use her personal experience to improve the mental health field and get more people interested in the profession.

“I’m passionate about mental health, and I want people to get engaged in the field,” she says. “If you genuinely have passion behind a cause, you can inspire others to get involved. I look forward to working with diverse populations, advocating for inclusivity, and learn how to practice culturally competent care to improve mental health services and practices for all people. I know we can make positive changes in the field if we are truly invested. I’m grateful that everything CU Nursing has taught me will help me with these endeavors, and I will carry these lessons with me throughout my career. I look forward to the future.”