Vail health feature: Let’s talk about mental health resources in the Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Vail health feature: Let’s talk about mental health resources in the Vail Valley

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series on mental health care. Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, Nov. 1, Vail Daily to read about mental heath as it pertains to the upcoming holiday season.

In a place like the Vail Valley, it can often feel like you're not supposed to talk about anything that doesn't involve the joys of mountain living. Tourists come to town and wander through a village area that's free of snow, graffiti, homeless people, litter and most other things that would dampen the idea of what a visiting friend once told me felt like "the Disneyland of winter."

It's true; we're lucky to live in a place where so many others yearn to vacation. But it needs to be acknowledged that there are parts of mountain living that can be hard — and stressful — and mental illness can exist in even a seemingly Utopian place such as Vail.

A discussion has started on a national level about mental health, and it's an encouraging sign for local mental health clinicians, who hope that a renewed focus on mental health care will continue to de-stigmatize the issue on a local level and encourage the expansion of mental health services throughout Eagle County.

Starting a conversation

The topic of mental health seems to tick across newsreels every time there's a national tragedy, and although that focus has started a national dialogue about the topic, it's important to focus on mental health at a local level in order to mitigate more widespread transgressions.

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We might feel shielded within our mountain community from the strife that seems to plague more urban areas, but life here can be hard. Many residents work more than one job, work through holidays and are anxious about finances, among other things, and it can all add up. To outsiders, life here can appear idyllic, although that perception can make it difficult for some residents to reach out when the stresses and anxieties of everyday life become overwhelming.

"From the outside, it's a happy valley, and that idea can be overwhelming, that you're supposed to have fun and you shouldn't be having a hard time," said Kristen Beau, a therapist and owner of Beau Counseling in Eagle-Vail. "But there's an underbelly to the Vail Valley. Although it's a wonderful place to live, it's difficult to live here. There's high seasons and low seasons, and people can be affected; there are stresses in this valley that other places don't have."

Beau said although the subject of mental health has drawn more attention over the past few years, it can be difficult to reach people most in need in the Vail Valley. She runs a clinic both in Eagle-Vail and in Denver and said although mental health is becoming a more recognized part of health in the area, it is still not as embraced as it is in Denver.

"The stigma of mental health has definitely gone down a bit in the Vail Valley, but it's a really accepted part of health in the Denver area," she said, "In a small town, there's often fear that people will see you going into the therapist's office or you'll see someone you know in the waiting room. Group work can be really difficult for that reason, as well; I've had groups fall apart from the beginning because people knew each other."

Similarly, the demands on local mental health care providers can be high. As of 2015, the Colorado Health Institute listed 14 actively licensed psychologists in Eagle County, which, also according to the Colorado Health Institute's 2015 data, must find a way to adequately serve a population of 53,861 people throughout the county.

Reaching out

Reaching out to demographics of people that are most susceptible to mental-health issues — and educating those around them about the signs of emotional distress — is another key component to de-stigmatizing mental health treatment. Specifically, men are less likely to see a professional to talk and are often more likely to suffer alone.

According to the Eagle County Coroner's Office, between 2000 and 2015, there were 96 suicides in the county, with men accounting for 87 cases and women for nine. That's a startling statistic and can often be an indication of how men dealing with mental illness internalize their distress from others.

"The first thing a lot of men tell me is that they feel like a failure for coming to therapy," Beau said, "although the attention that mental health has received more recently from social media and in the media is starting to help."

Mind Springs Health, which is located in 10 counties throughout Western Colorado, including Eagle County, has expanded programs to reach out to other at-risk demographics, as well. Inmates at the Eagle County Detention Center receive services from visiting Mind Springs clinicians, and the health center has programs in place to work with adolescents who might experience depression and behavioral issues.

Mind Springs also has a Mental Health First Aid class aimed at getting participants educated about the signs of mental illness, depression and emotional distress and how to provide support and encouragement to friends or family members who might be having a hard time.

Other regional organizations, such as Stand Up Reach Out, have similar goals of educating family and friends in how to respond to and support others who are suffering from mental illness and providing support groups for people who might be experiencing a mental health crisis. Eagle County schools are also focusing their attention on students' mental health needs, with visiting clinicians from Mind Springs being regular fixtures at the regional high schools to provide mental health support to students in need.

Making strides

Although there are obstacles to dealing with mental health in the area, local professionals and clinicians are optimistic about the increased attention that mental health has received and see the expansion of programs in the area as an indication that the stigma is slowly but surely being lifted.

Kristi Grems is the program director for Mind Springs, said throughout the years the number of people looking for outside help via Mind Springs has increased.

"Every year, our numbers increase, and our programs are reaching more people," she said. "The Affordable Care Act did improve some people's access, but that's not the only reason. I think it's also because the stigma is decreasing."

The Affordable Care Act has helped some demographics access mental health benefits by making tenets of mental health care mandatory via health insurance through the state's marketplace, along with expanding services for substance abuse and services for patients with behavior issues. Services such as depression screenings and behavioral assessments in children fall under the umbrella of preventative care under the Affordable Care Act's guidelines, which have also helped to reach some patients who previously had not been able to access those types of services.

The reach of technology has also helped to provide more anonymous forums for people suffering from mental illness, with websites such as mantherapy.org being popular, nationwide, web-based mediums to get in touch with mental health care providers.

Twenty-four-hour hotlines are another method to reach a clinician and are effective ways to talk to an impartial source. Grems said crisis hotlines exist at Mind Springs, along with the flexibility to find a mental health plan of action that works on an individual basis.

"Calling one of our offices to talk is a great way to get in touch with someone. People can call our crisis line if they ever need it," she said. "We have two bilingual therapists, and we take insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, but we're really flexible on coming up with a payment plan that works on a patient-by-patient basis; we just want to make sure people who need help get it."

Beau agreed that although mental health care can still be a bit taboo, the tides are turning and it's becoming more accepted as a part of mainstream health.

"I think things are changing, absolutely. More people talk about it, and there's more awareness about it," she said. "Our community offers so many things, and there's definitely more room for us to support each other."

Need to talk?

Here are some resources for mental health support.

• Mind Springs Health — 970-476-0930 (office), 888-207-4004 (24-hour crisis line), mindspringshealth.org

• Beau Counseling — 970-949-3344 (office), beaucounseling.com

• Awaking Awareness — 303-717-0801 (office), awakingawareness.com

• Stand Up Reach Out — 800-273-8255 (crisis line), speakupreachout.org

• Man Therapy, mantherapy.org