Officials prepare for rising mental health issues as spring approaches

CB State of Mind bringing “green” awareness to community

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Crested Butte State of Mind wants the community to know it is okay to not be okay. One in five Americans will experience a mental health issue in any given year and it can be even higher in mountain communities, especially resort communities. In fact within Gunnison County, adult behavioral issues are documented to have increased 500-percent in 2020 and spring is always a period of concern in the mental health realm.

“The stigma associated with mental health means people may not recognize what is happening or are too afraid to ask for help,” explained CB State of Mind (CBSOM) executive director Meghan Dougherty. “At CB State of Mind, we are committed to ending this stigma.”
One public effort to raise the awareness will take place starting this Sunday. CB State of Mind is launching its first annual Mental Health Awareness Campaign in collaboration with the general community. From Sunday, March 28 through Sunday, April 4, CBSOM is asking friends and neighbors to join in this effort by placing a green light in your windows for the entire week to help raise awareness about mental health.

“It is time to shine a light for mental health awareness,” said Dougherty. “A green light symbolizes that you care about the mental health of everyone in our Valley, and that you support your neighbors (and yourself!) in their quest for relief, comfort and assistance. The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about mental health, but more importantly, to spark conversations and fight the stigma surrounding mental health.”

Resort community concern
It is increasingly obvious that just because mountain resort communities display an image of paradise, the reality can be very different for many people living there. Dougherty explained that mountain and rural communities, ski towns specifically, have significantly higher rates of suicide compared to the national average of 14 people per 100,000. She said locally, it is approximately 30 deaths per 100,000 people — more than twice the national average.

“In the past few years suicide and suicide attempts in and around the Gunnison Valley, and the number of hospital visits due to mental health issues is at an alarming all-time high,” Dougherty said. “Gunnison Valley Hospital (GVH) has seen a 500-percent increase in admissions to the ER for adult behavioral issues in 2020. Not even our Gunnison Valley is immune to the stresses of the world today. Some refer to it as the ‘paradise paradox.’ With the allure of the landscapes and outdoor lifestyles often comes a host of realities including isolation, lack of mental health care, easy access to firearms and financial stressors. The transient nature of resort communities results in people having to regularly rebuild their support systems and are often less aware of the local resources.”

If you have lived in a mountain resort community for any length of time, you know that spring is a delicate time for some people. “Spring presents a time where suicide rates are 20-60 percent higher according to Fotis Papadopoulos, professor of psychiatry at Uppsala University, Sweden,” said Dougherty. “For many locals, people’s jobs are changing or ending due to the off-season thus creating financial stressors. People are leaving town to warmer climates or to lengthen their winter days leading to isolation for those who remain. Moreover, with local restaurant and business closings, feelings of loneliness and sadness can set in.”

Providing free and easy counseling for those who need it
Dougherty said that CB State of Mind is part of a collaborative effort to get ahead of the problem. The primary role that CBSOM plays is making access to counseling sessions easy and free. “Since launching almost one year ago, CBSOM has arranged for more than 700 free sessions to those in most need. These scholarships connect individuals with a local licensed therapist and remove some of the most common barriers including the inability to pay for therapeutic intervention or simply knowing where to start. We are seeing this demand grow with over 300 sessions provided in the first two-and-a-half months of 2021.”

Dougherty emphasized that “you can help shine a light on mental health by one simple gesture of changing your lights to green.”
Green light bulbs are available at the Mountain Colors Paint Store, The Crested Butte Visitors Center, Townie Books and Mountain Tails Pet Boutique in Crested Butte. In Gunnison, they are available at the Gunnison Recreation Center, Gunnison Arts Center, the Western Colorado University LEAD Office and at Toggery Elevated.

Pick up a green light bulb or green ribbon and you can get entered for a chance to win a pair of ROMP skis.

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