Jill Squyres is on the front line of Eagle County’s mental health effort
Clinical psychologist Jill Squyres is a High Country Character
High Country CharacterJill Squyres Eagle Profession: Clinical psychologist Hometown: New York City Years in the valley: Almost seven Favorite spot to hang out: Beaver Creek Mountain
EAGLE — From the time she was a little girl, Jill Squyres had the makings of a good counselor.
“I have always really liked listening to people and solving problems,” she said. “Then when I went to college, I loved all my psychology courses.”
With a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Southern California, today Squyres works as a clinical psychologist with an office in Eagle. Along with her private practice, she volunteers on the board of directors for Speak Up Reach Out and is active with the Total Health Alliance. At a time when the Eagle Valley is focused on improving mental health services, Squyres has found herself uniquely situated to help guide the effort.
“I like to be the person in private practice who is involved in issues at the community level,” Squyres said. “It’s exactly what I was trained for and the values I was raised with.”
New York native
Now a resident of Eagle, Squyres is far removed from her own upbringing. She grew up in New York City.
“I did all the city things as a kid — museums and shows and parades,” she said. “But I dreamed of picket fences and yards. I wanted open space.”
She attended undergraduate school at the University of Rochester.
“It was great. All you wanted to do was study because it was always so cold outside,” she said.
She majored in psychology, earned her bachelor’s degree and then opted to continue her studies in a warmer climate.
“All I wanted was to live in California. I loved L.A.,” Squyres said.
She did her doctorate work at USC and said she didn’t even mind the L.A. traffic. She finished her degree in 1987 and went to work for a company doing developmental testing, writing manuals and working with authors. She figured research would be the heart of her career.
Her heart had a different idea. She had married her first husband and the couple then moved to San Antonio, Texas.
In Texas, Squyres started a family that eventually included two sons and one daughter. She took a job as the staff psychologist in the spinal cord injury unit of the local VA hospital. She loved the work.
“Talk about making a big impact for someone who is open to it,” she said.
Eventually, Squyres and her husband separated in what she calls “the world’s most amicable divorce.” She agreed to remain in Texas so she and her ex could co-parent their children. In 2002, she opened a private practice which she ran until her youngest turned 18.
Then, the mountains were calling.
Picket fence charm
“I first came here in 2010. We had a timeshare and it was use it or lose it,” Squyres said.
That trip led to a second visit which led to a third.
“When I drove into Eagle and saw the picket fences, I said, ‘I have to live here,'” Squyres said. “I fell in love with Eagle like you fall in love with a person.”
She was attracted to the community’s family-oriented atmosphere and liked that while Eagle was close to a resort, it wasn’t a resort itself. And while Squyres loved the community vibe, she also saw a professional opportunity.
“I Google searched and found out there was no psychologists listed from Edwards to Glenwood Springs,” she said.
She moved to the valley in 2012.
Squyres said a couple of factors have helped her build a strong private practice in Eagle. First, she continued working with established clients from Texas.
“It would have been very difficult otherwise,” she said. “You don’t just hand out a shingle and have a practice here. People were just used to not having anything available locally.”
But with time, her practice gained local traction in a valley where the need for mental health services has been well documented.
“The need here is greater than what’s available,” Squyres said. “I am committed to doing what I can about that. It matters to me.”
Like people everywhere, Eagle County residents face mental health challenges. She noted financial insecurity is one stress that many residents face, supporting themselves and their families in a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
“Most people feel very alone and assume they are the only ones dealing with the issues they face,” she continued. “There is a lot of distress here.”
“Not talking about suicide doesn’t make it go away. It makes it worse,” Squyres said.
As its name states, Speak Up Reach Out is committed to taking its message to the masses.
Anyone who is in Vail on March 8 can be part of that effort. Speak Up Reach Out is planning a flash mob event at 2 p.m. at the base of Gondola One. Everyone is welcome to participate. Come prepared to belt out the song “Brave.”
As she looks at the local mental health landscape, Squyres said the valley needs beds and facilities and programs, “but we also need people to staff them,” she said. “We need to figure out how to bring more qualified mental health professionals up here.”
That’s a big challenge, she noted. By the time he or she has earned a psychology degree, a newly minted mental health professional has likely also compiled a big student debt. As a result, Squyres said Eagle County, with its high housing costs, doesn’t look like a great place to launch a practice. The answer, she believes, is to look at the problem comprehensively.
“That’s something I am willing to be involved with,” she said.
Judging by her own experience, Eagle County is a great place to grow professionally and reach out to the community. It’s even a place to grow your reputation, Squyres has learned.
Back in 2015, she presented a TEDxVail program titled “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” It was a talk about breaking up with your best friend. Search for it on YouTube and you will find the nine-minute video has piled up nearly 84,000 views.