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Vail Valley Voices: I love, so I live

Mike Gallagher
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

If you have followed Lauren Glendenning’s excellent articles on the tragically high suicide and attempt rate here and on the Western Slope, it is clear that we have a severe problem.

We also have a system, and the blatant fact is that the current system is inadequate.

It needs fixing, and thanks to the efforts of Lt. Greg Daly of the Avon Police Department, something is finally happening.

Why am I writing about it? If you go back to the Nov. 12, 2006, column I wrote for the Vail Daily, you will see that I have been through the depression wringer.

Because I also have an education that includes a string of psychology and education credits, reason and critical thinking, and I am a survivor, I feel compelled to speak out from the client side of the fence.

On Aug. 20, there will be a forum on a new coalition to take on the problem. It includes the Samaritan Center, Colorado West Mental Health, The Youth Coalition and more.

It does not bother me in the least that I put my own name on this. Don Rogers, Vail Daily editor, said, “Frankly, Mike, I admire your guts.”

If I cared about a negative opinion of me because of what I have been through, I would be less of a person. I am happy in what I know and who I am. I couldn’t care less if you attach a stigma to me. That I can whip you on my Stratocaster doesn’t begin to tell how much faith in what I have learned and who I am.

The story of my journey and why I am still here is a story for another day. But I’m not the one we all need to reach out to right now. I have a support network. I have people who care about me, and more importantly, there are people out there who I care about very much.

I love, so I live. People out there love, so I am alive.

The irony is that the people who wind up giving up often have little or no support network. It’s one thing to reach out to a friend who is in the black hole of severe depression. But we know how many of us look the other way.

We constantly read that we should reach out when we see signs of an impending tragedy, but most of us don’t. And it’s so much harder to reach out to those who are about down the drain from drugs and alcohol.

But having met some of those people with tragedies who have recovered because someone reached out, I have crossed paths with some amazing people. Those people have, in turn, helped others in the same boat.

As to the forum on the suicide prevention coalition, I challenge all of you to attend. I dare people from Vail Valley Medical Center, Colorado West, Eagle County School District, the local churches (the “Jesus’ teachings” thing) and the many people who are affected by depression as well as those whose lives have been impacted by depression to be there.

Like so many institutions, it will be like moving an elephant that doesn’t want to budge. We need to find a solution that starts from both the top down and the bottom up. The planning and design process, critical thinking and reason and the very real, tragic status quo says that there is a right way to turn this around.

I challenge the coalition to develop solutions using the objective planning process. The entrenched systems are irrelevant.

Two years ago, I wrote about peer support, which I know without a doubt is needed here.

To begin organizing, I set up an e-mail address to contact me (confidentially), and we can do something.

Write to peerforlife@gmail.com. If you’re suffering, know someone who is, are a professional or whatever, write.

To this date, our existing institutions here have done little to nothing pertaining to peer support.

Special thanks to Dr. Amanda Ryan, whose help and friendship helped save my life.

Mike Gallagher (not the former Eagle Count commissioner) is a longtime Vail Valley resident.

P.S.: Mike Gallagher e-mailed right about when the Saturday column on depression went to press that Janice Curtis, Western Slope coordinator for mental health peer support called to tell him about a new program for Eagle and Summit Counties. Information should be available soon.


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