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Helping people manage grief: Local church program a big asset as Eagle River Valley works to strengthen behavioral health services

Grief over loss can make for heavy burdens and leave people in crisis. A support group offered for free and now in its third year at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church is helping people who are struggling with grief find the support, coping skills and healing needed to move forward in their lives.

Kris Miller said the group is something the community needs — and something she herself has needed. “There’s other support groups, and the more the better, no matter what, but this one is free of charge. That makes a big difference. So many people don’t have the means to pay for a group of some sort,” she said.

Three years ago this month, Miller faced the tragic death of her husband, Kenny Dahlberg, a longtime local business owner in Avon who ran the Brass Parrot bar for 21 years. “I couldn’t make any decisions, I couldn’t do anything,” Miller said about the grief she was feeling at the time.

Miller learned about the GriefShare program that the Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards was starting and decided to give it a try. She attended sessions with a friend who helped her through the difficult process.

“What it gave me was absolutely a sense of understanding that other people were going through similar feelings I was going through, and that I wasn’t as alone as it seemed like I was,” Miller said. “It forced me to get out of the house, to be functioning, because I certainly wasn’t. It gave me something that meant something to go through every week, a little bit of strength each week.”

The 13-week GriefShare program offers a video-based curriculum featuring counselors and others who specialize in the grieving process, and provides a safe and welcoming environment for people struggling with loss to openly talk about their challenges.

Kris Miller said she couldn’t make any decisions or do anything after the tragic death of her husband Kenny Dahlberg three years ago. Dahlberg ran the Brass Parrot bar in Avon for 21 years. The GriefShare program at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church helped her through her grieving process, and today she leads programs at the church to help others.
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Pastor Jason Haynes said Gracious Savior Lutheran Church started offering the nationally-available program three years ago after a series of tragic and unexpected deaths among its congregation. The church offers the GriefShare program three times a year. 

“We just saw a need within our congregation and we knew there was a need in the community as well,” Haynes said. “That need is still huge.”

The church has also partnered with the nonprofit SpeakUp ReachOut to offer a six-week GriefShare program specifically for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. And on Nov. 9, the church is offering a single-session GriefShare program aimed at helping grieving people make it through the holidays, when pain associated with loss can be especially hard.

‘It’s a long, long process’

Three years later, Miller still struggles with the loss of her husband. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other triggers can bring painful thoughts right back to the surface.

“It’s not a fast journey, like you can skip to the last chapter of a book and be well. It’s a long, long process. You have forward movement and you move backwards. It’s an ongoing process, but this program definitely gives you some skills,” Miller said. “For me, I am so grateful for the church for starting this program and offering it to the community. It had a big influence on my life at a time that I needed it most.”

Participants in the program have also found healing by helping others navigate challenges with grief. Today, Miller is leading GriefShare groups at the church. So are Terry and Mike Mutter, whose daughter Lauren died unexpectedly in March 2019 after a heart attack at age 31. 

A graduate of Vail Christian High School, Lauren Mutter returned to the valley after college and worked for the school as director of admissions and student life. She also coached soccer and volleyball for the school and helped mentor youth throughout the valley with Young Life.

The Mutter family, Mike, Caitlin (front), Lauren, Terry and dog Baylor. Lauren’s unexpected death at age 31 last year left the family reeling, unsure how to cope and move forward. Terry and Mike Mutter are leading GriefShare programs to help others deal with devastating losses.
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“She was so young and so healthy. It was such a shock,” Terry Mutter said. The loss left the family reeling, unsure how to cope and move forward. Terry and Mike Mutter attended the final session of an ongoing GriefShare program shortly after Lauren’s death, and then attended a full 13-week program, and another one after that.

“I think when you first lose somebody and sit through a session like that, it’s healing on one level, but you can’t absorb it all because you’re hurting so much,” Terry Mutter said.

Today the Mutters are facilitating GriefShare programs at the church, and, like Miller, trying to help others deal with devastating losses that upend their lives.

“We understand that loss of someone you love so much, the questions of how do you move forward, and this program helps you do that,” Terry Mutter said. “That person wants you to be happy again, to find joy again, but it’s a hard thing to do. This group has helped us do that.”

People suffering grief need support, Mike Mutter said. That can be as simple as a hug or someone who can listen and understand. The GriefShare program offers both of those things, as well as tools and resources for people to proceed on their own and reach out for help when it’s needed.

“We are hoping to share Lauren’s legacy of unconditional love, respect and caring with people within the community who are going through the grieving process,” Mike Mutter said.

An ongoing challenge

Local behavioral health officials said programs like GriefShare are a valuable asset for Eagle County. Like many rural areas in the West, the county has long struggled with a shortage of timely, affordable services for people trying to manage grief, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental health challenges that have only been compounded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, Vail Health pledged to invest $60 million over 10 years to strengthen the Eagle River Valley’s behavioral health system and improve access to services. Chris Lindley, the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, and Dr. Casey Wolfington, its community behavioral health director, said the area is already making progress on those goals.

Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, an outreach of Vail Health, has brought more than 25 new service providers to the area over the last 18 months and is working to bring more. It has placed behavioral health providers within Colorado Mountain Medical clinics, strengthened therapist services at local schools, and is also working to build partnerships with universities and programs to help provide a pipeline for more highly-qualified providers to come to the community, Wolfington said.

“We were so far off what the recommended number of clinicians per population was that every time we add a provider, that person becomes full. When we add another, that person becomes full. Every provider has crisis appointments available, but what we’re seeing is we don’t even really know how to estimate the need because it’s almost a never-ending well,” Wolfington said.

Eagle Valley Behavioral Health created an online navigator service to help people easily determine if their insurance covers behavioral health services. And predicting a growing mental health toll from the coronavirus pandemic, it accelerated a planned launch of Olivia’s Fund to March of this year, creating a scholarship program to help ensure people get needed behavioral health services even if they can’t afford them. 

Every person who has applied so far has been approved, some multiple times because they needed more than six sessions.

“We never want someone’s financial state to be the reason they don’t seek services. We want people to get help first,” Wolfington said.

Now in its eighth month, the pandemic has made the area’s mental health challenges greater than ever, Wolfington and Lindley said. The long, slow-moving daily crisis has upended nearly every aspect of life, from work and school to parenting and the social interactions that many people rely on for their emotional and mental health. Fatigue is setting in, but the pandemic is far from over. 

“We want people to prepare and know this will not all be fixed in a month or two,” Lindley said. “We’re probably six to eight months out from having any viable vaccine in our community, so the entire late fall, winter, and early spring, we’re going to be living in the same scenario we’re living today — wearing masks, washing hands and keeping distance.”

The hope is that more people will take proactive steps to improve their physical and mental health. Another hope is that the pandemic could help reduce any lingering stigmas associated with people getting needed help for emotional and mental health challenges. 

From schoolchildren to parents and grandparents, nearly everyone has struggled in some way to deal with the pandemic and the economic uncertainty, isolation, disruption and anxiety it has caused. More people are talking openly about the toll the pandemic has taken on their mental health and that’s a good thing, Lindley said.

“I truly believe there is not one person in this valley that is not affected by this in some way. We are all stressed more, with increased anxiety and uncertainty, and that is okay and to be expected,” Lindley said. “We need to talk about it and recognize everyone will handle it differently. We want people to seek out resources. If you have a sore tooth, you go to the dentist. If you have anxiety or other concerns, go see a provider. There’s no barrier to getting in. Go talk to a behavioral health provider and get reset and get the help you need and continue to thrive.”

For more information about providers, support groups and other behavioral health resources, visit eaglevalleybh.org.

Pumpkin races, artwalks, mindfulness and live music: Tricia’s weekend picks 10/09/20

ARTwalk in Eagle

It’s the second Friday of the month and that means that Eagle ARTS is hosting another ARTwalk from 5-8 p.m. Parts of Broadway in downtown Eagle will be blocked off so guests can stroll down the street take advantage of specials at participating businesses. Stop by the various booths that line the street and celebrate the arts and celebrate the fact that you have a fun, socially-distanced activity to do on a Friday night.

In addition to the art and business offerings, there will be a special street dance performance by students of More 2 Dance Studio at 6:30 p.m. and live music by The Evolution from 5-7 p.m. Then DJ Kirby will start spinning tunes at Katch of the Day from 7–9 p.m.

Don’t miss this month’s ARTwalk Scavenger Hunt, which has become popular. Download the app and follow the clues to different businesses on Broadway. Finding unique art could earn you a prize.  

The Vail Valley Art Guild’s Eagle Gallery at 108 W. Second Street will be having its Second Friday event in conjunction with the Eagle ARTS event. From 5 to 8 p.m., stop by the gallery and view the work of featured artist Missy Octave. In addition to Octave, other artists include Cindy Kelleher, Soodi Lick, Christine Sena and Barbara Holden. The gallery will also feature works by photographers Raymond Bleeze, Rick Spitzer and Jon Sheppard as well as ceramics by Ann Loper and woodworking by Ken Kolano.

Admittance to the ARTwalk is free and tickets to participate in the scavenger hunt are $5 per person and available for purchase at www.eaglearts.org.

Gypsum Fall Festival

Gypsum is hosting its Fall Festival by spreading people throughout the town hall and library parks, Lundgren Amphitheater, and even Lundgren Street to provide a socially-distanced celebration.

Costumes are encouraged as folks come out to enjoy the various activities for all ages. Zone One (Lundgren Amphitheater) will have a “daylight friendly” movie screen and will be showing “Ghostbusters” at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. followed by a costume parade.

Zone Two (Gypsum Library Pavilion and Lawn) will house the food and live music with bands from 1 to 7 p.m. Food trucks will be available and don’t forget to sign up for the Apple Cider Holding Competition at 2 and 5 p.m. There will be adult and child categories.

Zone Three (Lundgren Blvd.) features a pumpkin decorating contest, pumpkin race and ax throwing. Heats in the pumpkin race will go off at 1:15, 3:15 and 5:15 p.m. Ax throwing will happen between 1 and 7 p.m.

All information on the races, costume contest and decorating contest can be found at townofgypsum.com.

World Mental Health Day

Saturday is World Mental Health Day and local suicide prevention group SpeakUp ReachOut has several ways to get involved.

“World Mental Health Day is a day to remind us to slow down and acknowledge what we need for mental wellness,” said Erin Ivie, executive director of the nonprofit SpeakUp ReachOut. “This year we are offering most of the sessions online so that more people can participate. Intentional mental health care is more important than ever as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ivie said.

Schedule (some events are in-person and streaming):

8 a.m. – Virtual Meditation with Becky Hesseltine

9 a.m. – Yoga/Meditation with Twyla Gingrich of Samya Yoga Healing

10:30 a.m. – Mindfulness Mandala with Alpine Arts Center

12 p.m. “A Mental Health Toolkit for COVID-19” – Lunch and Learn with Dr. Justin Ross

1 p.m. – Financial Wellness Basics w/ Michelle from Cornerstone Financial

2 p.m. – “Practical Steps to Taking Control of Your Life” – Tess Johnson of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.

If you don’t have enough time to participate in these events online or in person, Ivie said they are suggesting that everyone takes 10 minutes out of their day to just be still.

“Suicide is complicated and is rarely caused by one factor. The pandemic affects everyone in a different way and therefore it is difficult to predict how this will affect suicide rates in our community. With that said, being aware of your own mental health and what is happening for your friends and loved ones is more important than ever, ” Ivie said. To learn more, go to speakupreachout.org.

Pop-Up Music

Scott Rednor, musician and owner of the Shakedown Bar in Vail Village has been busy playing all over the place this summer. Where there’s a stage, there’s a show and Rednor and his talented team of musical friends will host a few more pop-up shows before the month is over.

This Saturday, follow the sounds of the music in Lionshead and sit back and listen to free live music between 2 and 7 p.m. This week’s band is Mark Levy & Friends featuring Scott Rednor, Joey Porter and Garrett Sayers.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Rednor hasn’t been able to host musical performances at Shakedown Bar at the top of Bridge Street. He created Shakedown Presents and approached the town of Vail with a few ideas for music during the pandemic. Rednor has so many connections in the music world that he’s been able to bring plenty of performers to the Vail Valley and play at pop-up locations throughout town and at the main stage in Ford Park.

“It’s been a blast!” Rednor said. “It’s been fun to explore all the new opportunities. The town of Vail has been supportive and we’ve learned a lot about what live music can do for businesses who are near the pop-up stage,” Rednor said.

If you miss this Saturday, Shakedown Presents will host shows from 2 to 7 p.m. for the next four Saturdays with a special Halloween show on Oct. 31. For more information visit shakedownpresents.com.

Cocktails and Canvas

The Alpine Arts Center is hosting its popular Cocktails and Canvas event this Saturday where adults get to show their creativity while also having an adult beverage. Alpine Arts Center provides all the supplies and instruction for a group project.

Advanced registration required and it’s $45 per person to attend the class. Due to COVID-19, classes are available in-person or virtual. You can still participate via Zoom and that cost is $25 per person, but it doesn’t include materials. You can purchase class kits if you don’t have the right supplies at home.

Get those creative juices flowing with wine or beer for $6 a glass. Please note, you can’t bring in your own alcohol, all alcoholic beverages must be purchased through the Alpine Arts bar. There are some non-alcoholic beverages and snacks available, too.

This Saturday’s class is painting on canvas, but Alpine Arts mixes up the mediums and also has classes working with clay, glass etching, encaustic wax and more.

Follow Alpine Arts Center’s social media pages and website for more details on which classes are offered and look for Halloween-themed classes this month. For more information, go to alpineartscenter.org.

Sacred Cycle hosting virtual, in-person event on Wednesday to empower survivors of sexual abuse, assault

Due to this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits have had to come up with new ways to support their missions. The Sacred Cycle, which empowers survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault through therapy and cycling, is hosting a month-long virtual fundraiser with a goal of raising $30,000.

The virtual fundraiser started on Sept. 14 and goes through Oct. 12. Beyond asking for donations, the Sacred Cycle Virtual Heal Campaign also fosters community by hosting group bike rides, picnics, live painting classes on Zoom and virtual happy hours with games and other means of interaction between participants and more.

During its final week of the Virtual Heal Campaign, Sacred Cycle will host an event called Defining Success with keynote speaker Trish Kendall and panelists on the topic of overcoming obstacles on Oct. 7 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Kendall’s story starts at the pit of her despair and how she overcame many obstacles to find the success and happiness she embraces today. Kendall believes that her single most important lesson in life is that love is your choice.

There will also be a panelist discussion after Kendall speaks that will focus on how to support a survivor, watch for signs and build awareness offering the expertise of these local experts:

This will be an in-person event as well as streamed online to accommodate COVID-19 regulations and also allow this message to be heard by more people. The Highline Hotel in West Vail will host the event in the ballroom and is limited to 50 people. The Sacred Cycle asks that you RSVP for free or donation-based tickets at EventBrite.

The goal of the Virtual Healing Campaign is to raise $30,000 and was chosen because that amount covers the price of a five-month program for 15 women. Sacred Cycle helps women in Eagle County, Denver County and the Roaring Fork Valley, so it is looking to serve five women per region.

Sacred Cycle was founded in 2016 by Heather Russell during a long mountain bike training ride. Russell was a victim of sexual abuse and found that being out in nature and biking helped her heal. Through her graduate studies and working with sexual trauma survivors, she believed that biking, therapy and a sense of community could heal others. Sacred Cycle helps clients discover barriers and break through them to become more confident in their personal recovery journey. For more information, visit sacredcycle.org.

Gov. Jared Polis addresses state’s behavioral health crisis

EDWARDS — Eagle County isn’t alone in its efforts to increase awareness, services and funding for behavioral health issues.

But it is taking a lead in getting to work on the problem.

Friday morning, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis traveled to Eagle County to speak with community leaders about how the county’s mental health concerns are part of a bigger statewide issue. During the morning session at Battle Mountain High School, the governor praised Vail Health’s $60 million commitment to behavioral health efforts and noted that local leaders are engaging in discussions that are needed throughout Colorado.

“In many ways, we have a suicide crisis in our state,” Polis said.

Earlier this month, Polis announced the formation of the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force — a group tasked with evaluating Colorado’s existing systems and then setting a road map for the state’s behavioral health efforts. Polis told the local audience that Colorado spends more than $1 billion annually on behavioral health efforts, but the state needs to delve into the actual issues to ensure that those dollars are spent effectively. Polis noted that the state needs to define its behavioral health outcomes and then concentrate resources to meet them.

The concentration of resources is a familiar theme for Eagle County entities. Before Polis took the stage Friday, representatives from some of the 17 governmental, law enforcement, emergency services and health care organizations working on local behavioral health issues detailed the scope of the problem and their work to date in addressing it.

Battle Mountain High School student Saphira Klearman introduced the governor and made an emotional appeal, noting local young people struggle daily with behavioral health issues. She said the valley’s behavioral health system needs to change now.

“This initiative (Vail Health’s $60 million commitment) is incredible and I promise you it is going to make a change,” Klearman said.

An attempt every day

Eagle County Health and Human Services Director Chris Lindley shared a startling new statistic during Friday’s gathering — during 2018, there was nearly one suicide attempt every day in Eagle County.

“This is a small community, a small valley and when I heard that statistic from Chris Montera of Eagle County Paramedic Services, it blew my mind,” Lindley said.

Last year, local EMS workers responded to 324 suicide attempts. Seventeen Eagle County residents died by suicide in 2018.

Meanwhile, Vail Health’s emergency room recorded 290 visits for anxiety/depression last year, and both state and local officials know an emergency room isn’t the optimum environment for behavioral health treatment. Vail Health President and CEO Will Cook said that providing an alternative treatment center is one of the key features of the hospital’s $60 million behavioral health initiative.

Cook said that over the next 10 years, Vail Health’s $60 million pledge will be allocated to system priorities ($30 million); a crisis stabilization unit that will include 24/7 walk-in access and social detox ($12 million); in-kind support include administration, finance, IT, marking and philanthropy ($11 million); and staffing and operations ($7 million),

“This will start with the $60 million and we will go out and get more money raised,” Cook said.

Getting Help

The urgency of the state’ss behavioral health needs was a reoccurring topic at the Friday session. Current events underscored the state’s needs.

April 20 marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings and this week, a number of Denver metro area schools called off classes for a day when an 18-year-old Florida woman made credible threats to carry out another school shooting.

Acting as the moderator for Polis’s comments, Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney asked how behavioral health efforts can make Colorado safer. Polis noted that in the case of Sol Pais, who purchased three one-way tickets from Miami to Denver and who legally purchased a shotgun once she arrived in Colorado, mental health intervention didn’t happen. Instead, a massive manhunt that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars ensued and the teen died by suicide.

“Unfortunately, there was no interaction with any services that could have helped her,’ he said.

Polis noted the Pais case is an example of how the cost of reacting to mental health emergencies is much higher than providing preventative care. That’s the crux of the work ahead for the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force as well as Eagle County’s behavioral health efforts.

“I really want to commend the steps that Vail Health as taken here,” said Polis. “It’s always good to be a leader, not a follower.”

Take it from a military veterinarian: Your dogs are good for you

Not all soldiers walk on two legs and carry a rifle. Many people do not know that there are veterinarians in the military.​

Dogs have been a part of the U.S. military in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. Chip, a canine sentry for the U.S. Army, was the most decorated dog in World War II. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division in Italy and France and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart.

As a U.S. Army veterinarian, I have the honor and privilege of caring for dogs like Chip. Each day I see evidence of the positive effects of human-animal bonds. These benefits are not limited only to the military, though. Recent research has shown very real physical and social-emotional benefits to owning a pet, and, in particular, a dog.

Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

​Research is being conducted all around the world demonstrating the positive effects of canine companions on our physical health. A 2017 study in Sweden compared rates of cardiovascular disease in dog-owning families and non-dog-owning families. With over 3.4 million participants, the study showed a lower risk of cardiac-related deaths in families with dogs.

Reduced blood pressure

A U.S. study published last year in the American Heart Association’s journal, “Hypertension,” followed 48 people with high blood pressure who were given dogs. After just 6 months their blood pressure was significantly lower. Other studies show that dog owners have increased immune function and fewer health problems. In general, dogs keep us physically active, keep us busy, and give us companionship.

Among other duties, Capt. Edgerton is doing research about the human/animal bond.
Vail Mountain School

Psychological benefits

​In addition to the physical and social aspects of the human-animal bond, animals have an important psychological impact on their owners. Pets help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Recent studies at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine examined the effects of service dog partnership on the symptoms of combat trauma. The studies found that veterans with service dogs had significantly less depression, increased quality of life and higher social functioning.

The work of a program called the Warrior Canine Connection has shown similar benefits but uses a different approach. In this program, wounded warriors with post-traumatic stress train dogs to become service animals. Training dogs helps recovering veterans cope with post-deployment challenges, and in the process, the veterans heal themselves.

More than dogs are good for humans.
Vail Mountain School

Research by Canine Companions has shown that friendly interactions with dogs can release a powerful brain chemical that inspires a profound sense of attachment. This chemical reaction can also reduce fear and anxiety, and increase a sense of trust.

Pets help humans connect with others

​In addition to physical benefits, animals help create human-to-human friendships and lead to increased social support. A survey conducted by the University of Western Australia, Harvard, and WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition found that pet owners were 60% more likely than non-pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods. They also found that people who have solid social networks are 50% more likely to live longer than those with limited social networks.

In today’s society, especially with increased usage of social media, many people have trouble making connections. Pets provide an incentive for people to get out of their homes, and a means for them to connect with others over a mutual interest.

​Dogs have been part of our society for thousands of years. Having a pet can not only facilitate a healthy lifestyle, but can also provide numerous other psychological and social benefits.  While canine soldiers, like Chip, help keep the country safe, our personal pets help keep us active and bring us together as a community.

Cynthia Edgerton grew up in the Vail Valley and attended Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through 12th grade. After graduating from VMS in 2010, she completed her undergraduate degree in biology and military science at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont where she was also a part of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps. In 2014, the Army granted Cynthia an education delay to attend veterinary school at the University of Minnesota. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine in May of 2018 and entered the Army Veterinary Corps as a Captain.

She is currently stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs while she completes an internship program in animal medicine and public health. This summer the Army will move her to Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she will be the head veterinarian for the next 2-3 years. Following her military service, her goal is to return to her hometown in Vail, Colorado and establish a veterinary practice.

Vail One Mind program helps response to mental health cases

VAIL — Police are often the first to respond to people in crisis. Vail’s police department is working to make sure those first responders can provide as much help as possible.

The Vail Police Department is participating in the One Mind program, which was developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger has long been associated with that group.

According to the organization’s website, One Mind focuses on “uniting local communities, public safety organizations and mental health organizations so that the three become ‘of one mind.’”

Henninger said it has only been recently that there have been enough partners able to help with those goals. Vail police are working with the recently-created Eagle County Hope Center.

Henninger said longtime provider Mind Springs Health — which serves much of the Western Slope — simply hasn’t had the resources in Eagle County to provide the level of services needed for the One Mind program to be effective.

A growing need

The One Mind program works to build a model that involves police and medical first responders. And the need for services has been climbing, and climbing rapidly.

During a recent presentation to the Vail Town Council, Eagle County Human Services Department Director Chris Lindley laid out some of those numbers.

The county in just the past four years has seen a 360 percent increase in emergency room visits for anxiety or depression. There has been a similar increase in emergency room visits for alcohol or drug intoxication.

The number of suicides in the county has also roughly tripled, going from six in 2016 — a longtime county average — to 16 in 2017 and 17 in 2018.

Lindley said there has also been an increase since 2011 in the number of middle schoolers who have made suicide plans. That number was 15 percent in 2017, compared to 5 percent in 2011.

Vail Town Council member Jenn Bruno noted during the meeting that her two sons are both in middle school.

“I believe those numbers,” she said.

Lindley then ran through some of the efforts to improve mental health care in the county, starting with a sales tax on marijuana sales passed in 2017.

While that tax by itself won’t generate enough to cover all the county’s needs — Lindley’s estimates show more than $200 million in need over the next decade — Lindley said voter approval of the tax helped jump start the local effort.

Work is coming along to create facilities, including a 24-hour walk-in clinic.

But the needs are great. Lindley said Eagle County would need another 66 mental health professionals just to get the area to the state per-capita average.

One Mind, one community

Vail’s One Mind is another attempt to help as much as possible.

Henninger said One Mind is an effort to “have good policies in place.”

The program aims to train everyone working for Vail’s police department, from clerks to dispatchers to street officers.

The training is extensive — the 40-hour course includes both classroom work and role-playing exercises. The role-playing portion of the course includes actors trained to represent people in crisis.

Henninger said most of the department has taken the training. The entire staff may be trained by the end of this year, barring staff turnover.

The program is paid for with the department’s regular training funds.

Henninger said the One Mind training is useful for cases beyond those in a mental health crisis.

The “de-escalation” techniques can help with risk protection orders and other cases, he added.

Henninger said the reasons aren’t well known for the increases in mental health cases. But the need is there, for money and resources.

“Why don’t we have something similar to Pink Vail for mental health?” Lindley asked. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do that for mental health as well?”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

5 reasons why an LOL might help your health

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Sometimes, LAUGHTER Is the Best Medicine. You know that friend who is always good for a loud, hearty laugh? Turns out her sunny disposition is healthy — for relaxation, immune function, and even pain management. Kaiser Permanente behavioral medicine specialist Amanda Bye, PsyD, offers five reasons you should, well, LOL.

1 Laughter is a stress-buster. “It releases endorphins, which helps people feel good,” Dr. Bye says. “Endorphins also increase tolerance for both physical and emotional pain.”

2 Laughter boosts immunity. “It increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which help to prevent or fight disease,” Dr. Bye explains.

3 Laughter relaxes the body. A good belly laugh may pack a one-two punch. “Chemicals are released that relax us, and laughter changes how we look at things, too,” Dr. Bye adds. “If we look at something as being funny, it’s not as stressful or painful.”

4 Laughter strengthens social networks. “It’s a way for humans to connect to each other. People who use humor are seen as more socially likable,” Dr. Bye says, noting that laughter helps improve teamwork, decrease conflict, and otherwise make human connections stronger.

5 Laughter is a little bit of exercise. Before you laugh this one off, consider this: According to the American Cancer Society, the effects of laughter include increased breathing, oxygen use, and heart rate — all similar to a quick burst of physical activity.

How to Laugh More

Now that you know laughter is good for your health, you want more of it, right? Amanda Bye, PsyD, explains how.

Be social. “People are 30 times more likely to laugh in a social setting than alone,” Dr. Bye says. Go to laughter yoga or game night.

Look for the humor in situations. Laugh at yourself.

Spend time with children and pets. “The average child laughs 400 times a day,” Dr. Bye says.

Watch something funny on TV. Buy your child a joke book. Go to a comedy club.

Smile at yourself in the mirror. “Fake it until you feel it,” Dr. Bye says, noting that this strategy moves you closer to laughing.

Erase anxiety with simple strategies

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Whether you have stage fright or a big work presentation, anxiety can invade at inopportune times. Evelyn Lifsey, Ph.D., Kaiser Permanente licensed clinical psychologist, outlines five steps to help you reduce anxiety.

Deep breaths. Breathe slowly and deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth. “Focus on how your body feels and the breath going in and out,” says Dr. Lifsey, noting that in addition to calming your mind, deep breathing oxygenates the blood and muscles, and thereby the brain.

Visualization. Recall the five senses of a relaxing place, such as the beach or mountains. “What does it look like? How does it feel on your skin? What does it sound like, taste like? How does it smell? Activate all your senses around that place. This will crowd out anxiety,” Dr. Lifsey says.

Distract yourself. Anxious thoughts elevate your heart rate. A racing heart then signals the brain that you should panic. “There absolutely is a mind-body connection,” Dr. Lifsey says. Do something physical to interrupt the cycle. Drop and do push-ups or a few yoga poses. Excuse yourself and take a quick walk if you can.

Pack a customized ‘fi rstaid’ kit. Write down positive statements on index cards. Download soothing music to your mobile phone or MP3 player. Pack an inspirational book. You know what calms you, so assemble an on-the-go survival kit.

Don’t worry about your worry. Some anxiety can actually help us perform better. “It’s a normal part of our makeup,” she says. “The right amount of anxiety—a little bit of stimulant— can help you concentrate on the thing you need to concentrate on most,” Dr. Lifsey says.

If you need more help it’s OK to seek help dealing with stress. In fact, meeting with a mental health professional can help you fine-tune deep breathing, visualization, or other strategies to reduce everyday anxiety. Licensed Clinical Psychologist Evelyn Lifsey, Ph.D., recommends meeting with a mental health professional if anxiety leads to:

  • Needless worry that you have difficulty controlling
  • Racing thoughts that interfere with concentration
  • Difficulty focusing at home, school or work
  • Panic or depression