Mental Health group holds ‘conversation’ in Vail | VailDaily.com

Mental Health group holds ‘conversation’ in Vail

VAIL — It's not hard to fathom that 1 million Coloradans suffer from mental illness, but it's daunting to think only half of them get treatment — for whatever reason. Another alarming statistic: People with mental illnesses start showing symptoms around age 14.

With the suicide rate climbing in Colorado, the people at Mental Health Colorado believe it's time to look at mental health like any other medical crisis.

Mental Health Colorado is an advocacy organization trying to change public stigmas associated with mental illness and policies on local, state and federal levels. The organization stopped Wednesday at the Vail Public Library.

"There's got to be a better way to go, and we're here to find out what's working in Eagle County, what's not working and how we can close that gap," said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

In attendance were parents of children battling mental illness, representatives from local providers and police agencies and others who deal with mental illness on a daily basis.

"Recovery is possible," Skye Dayne told the crowd of about a dozen people.

Dayne has been living with bipolar disorder since she was 8 years old. She waited until she was 24 to get treatment. Dayne has three kids and is the owner of her own fitness business.

"I'll always have bipolar, and I'm living proof that recovery is possible," she said.

Barriers for people with mental illnesses include cost of treatment, concerns about being discovered and, especially in the high country, lack of providers — from day beds to long-term treatment.

For the Hispanic population, there can be a language barrier, as well as a fear of deportation resulting in people not getting proper treatment.

Chris Reder, of local provider Mind Springs Health, was in attendance Wednesday and said that even without stigmas and barriers associated with mental illness, there still is a dire need for more providers — and facilities — in Eagle County.

A possible solution could be a joint effort between neighboring counties, which are facing the same needs, to bring better quality mental health care to rural Colorado. Local medical staffs, including at schools, seem sufficient when dealing with less-severe mental health issues including depression and anxiety, but when it comes to more pronounced cases, Eagle County does not have the resources to help, often sending people to Denver or Colorado Springs.

'Come a long way'

Avon Police Chief Greg Daly added to Wednesday's conversation the perspective from police, who, thanks to their training, often transport mental health patients along with the ambulance district.

Daly, who has long worked with the county's Speak Up, Reach Out suicide prevention program, said there has been a spike in suicidal thoughts at Eagle County Schools based off of a survey done each year, but he added that the increase might be from the wording of the question.

Regardless, diagnosing mental health diseases in children is important, even though they might not get the treatment — for whatever reason. Daly said Eagle County schools have "come a long way" in terms of working with mental illness.

With 10 involuntary holds per month (picking up a mentally ill patient for their own safety), police in Eagle County, and paramedics, are faced with the burden of transporting patients. Since training is required, police and paramedics must do the job, instead of a taxi transporting the person to treatment, or jail.

In his eight years in the Colorado Legislature, Romanoff said that solutions to problems come from conversations just like those on Wednesday in the Vail Public Library. He said the state needs twice as many psychiatric beds than it currently has.

Last year, Mental Health Colorado stopped at eight locations across the state, talking with 500 people about mental illness and how communities, and the state as a whole, can do a better job of addressing the diseases.

For more information, visit MentalHealthColorado.org. The website has free screenings, surveys and an easy way to contact your legislators. Visit the site to join The Wave and be an ambassador for mental health.

"There's a set of problems that make this even more important to address in rural Colorado," Romanoff said.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.