Eagle County psychologist: Ballot Issue 1A will fund critical mental health services | VailDaily.com

Eagle County psychologist: Ballot Issue 1A will fund critical mental health services

Jill Squyres, Ph.D.
Valley Voices

My family started vacationing in the Vail Valley in 2010. During our summer 2011 visit, my husband turned to me and said, "I think I could live here." After 20 years in Texas, this New York native was ready for a change, so I started researching the area to see if relocating was a viable option.

As a clinical psychologist with a busy practice in San Antonio, the idea of moving my practice to a whole new state was more than a little daunting. So, I did a Google search using the key words "clinical psychologist Eagle, Colorado," and I discovered that the closest psychologists to the town of Eagle were in Edwards and Glenwood Springs. There were very few psychologists and only a limited number of psychotherapists in the entire county.

When I mentioned this to my husband, he said, "Maybe Eagle County is such a great place to live that they don't really need psychologists here." I wish that had turned out to be true, that everyone living here was so happy and problem-free that there was little need for psychotherapists. It didn't take much digging to discover the sad truth that the need for mental-health services was great but local resources were limited. I was shocked to discover the high rates of suicide, substance abuse, mental illness and relationship distress in this beautiful valley. Alas, wherever there is light, there is also shadow.

Unfortunately, the critical need for mental-health services is an inconvenient truth that many locals, who would prefer to focus on the majestic scenery, outdoor sports, resort culture and fun that most people think of when they hear "Vail Valley," would rather not face. I've had a busy private practice in Eagle since moving here in 2012, and I joined the board of Speak Up, Reach Out, the suicide prevention coalition of the Eagle Valley, soon after settling in to my new home.

It is a privilege to serve the mental-health needs of my community, but the lack of crisis stabilization beds, urgent care, substance-abuse detox and inpatient treatment services is a serious problem. After practicing for many years in a large city where those of us providing outpatient psychotherapy took the availability of these critical services for granted, it is very frustrating to operate without them.

It's heartbreaking when a client is in severe distress or actively suicidal and the only option is to send them for inpatient treatment more than 100 miles away from their family and support network. I've seen parents struggle with handling the needs of a child in crisis who must be sent to Denver or Colorado Springs or Grand Junction while still needing to care for their other kids who just want to have their lives at home be as normal as possible.

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We have students in our schools who admit to suicidal thoughts or deep depression but must wait for an available outpatient counseling appointment instead of having someone onsite to talk with immediately.

While everyone is likely to agree that meeting the emotional needs of our kids is a worthy goal, addressing the mental health needs of criminals may seem a lot less appealing. However, the crimes committed by many of those involved in our criminal justice system often result from substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders, which presents a significant drain on our community.

Many individuals with serious mental illnesses receive their only treatment while incarcerated. Since 70 percent of the inmates in our county jail require psychiatric medications, the absence of a dedicated clinician to address the mental health needs of our prison population is frankly appalling.

As a local provider of mental health services, I strongly support Ballot Issue 1A and have encouraged everyone I know to vote in favor of it. Passing Ballot Issue 1A will provide funds for crisis stabilization and substance-abuse detox beds, walk-in mental health services and counselors for our schools and the county jail.

Since I first moved to Eagle County, I've been party to discussions about ways to fund critical mental health services, and before 1A, no viable alternatives had been proposed. Currently, there are no other county taxes on recreational marijuana, so taxing recreational marijuana is an innovative solution to a difficult problem we've been struggling to solve for a long time.

At present, there is no other local money available for funding this critical need, and we can't tax alcohol or tobacco because federal law prohibits that. Please vote "yes" on 1A and lend your support to making our beautiful valley a better, more caring community for all of us.

Jill Squyres, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Eagle. Help is available 24/7 by calling the local crisis hotline at 888-207-4004, the Colorado Crisis Services statewide hotline at 844-493-TALK (8255) or texting TALK to 38255.