Lindley: Eagle County’s mental health crisis is ours to fix (column)
Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
“WTH, more people killed themselves this year than in any of the past five years?”
This was my thought when I learned a month ago that 10 people committed suicide in Eagle County this year. Last year, we had six suicides, and the average for the past five years was seven suicides, according to the Eagle County coroner. It’s only October. We still have the holiday rush to come — to come … I can’t believe I thought, “to come” so easily. But, I know — as do public safety officials and the medical community — that historically, the suicide rate goes up during the holiday season.
That is the problem, isn’t it? We know it is going to spike. How about we do something to stop it? How about we put effort and money into resources we know are proven and that work instead of putting that care and energy into buying the right flowers for another gravestone or perfect cards for loved ones?
Our local hospital has seen a 243 percent increase in two years in persons requiring detox, according to Vail Health. Want another horrific statistic? According to the Eagle County coroner, six of the 10 suicides have been women. Nationally, men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women. We’re anchoring a very scary part of the spectrum in that we have 60 percent of our suicides being moms, sisters, partners and spouses.
Mental-health issues cut across all ages and socioeconomic groups. People who are struggling with mental-health issues are our friends, our neighbors and our co-workers. It’s usually a quiet struggle. It is “taboo.” We don’t talk about it in polite company. The kind of polite company that immediately thinks of future trends “to come” or how it will get worse, rather than going after the root causes and providing direct, personal help to those of us who are struggling.
More than 1 million Coloradans experience a mental-health or substance-use disorder each year. Most go without treatment. My brothers and sisters who have served in the military are often struggling with the aftermath of that terrible experience. One in four members of our society experience a mental health illness or substance abuse crisis in our lifetime.
Pause on those numbers for a second: one in four. A full quarter of the people we see at the market, at school, at work, walking, hiking, biking, driving, eating … are going to come dangerously close to going over the edge at some point. WTH? While looking around, take a look at our kids and youth. The most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 shows that nearly 13 percent of Eagle County seventh- and eighth-graders have made a suicide plan and 6.5 percent attempt to carry it out. We don’t hang those grades on the fridge, but we appear to be comfortable and complacent with failing in this area.
This hit mighty close to home for me. My own kids are students in Eagle Valley Middle School, so this data really upsets me and makes it very real. It should rattle us all. These are our kids in our schools, in our community. We can and must do better.
The availability of treatment for mental-health issues is limited at best in this county. Today, Eagle County residents must drive 2.5 hours to Grand Junction or Denver if they need inpatient care. We have no beds for that care here.
What our county as a community needs is a facility or facilities that folks in need can get to easily and in which they can get the treatment they need to recover. We need resources — beds and staff for crisis and inpatient care that are here in the community in which we live. One important element in treatment and recovery is the presence and support of family and friends, something not readily accessible if the person in treatment is more than two hours from home.
Currently, there is no federal, state or other grant mechanism to get this done. The crisis that impacts our community is ours to fix. No one is going to fix this for us. We have a choice to make, and we’ve got to look at each other for a solution. It’s up to us as a community to take care of our own. Knowing “I should have done something” after the fact somehow doesn’t cut it, so enhanced awareness and access to trained professionals is vital.
While we are sponsoring two free Mental Health First Aid trainings this month at the county to assist all of us in being more comfortable in identifying and supporting folks with mental-health needs, identifying the need is not enough. We need to respond to the need and be ready and able to offer hope and treatment.
We need to be able to encourage those folks to make the steps toward recovery, as well, and for that, we need to ramp up our resources for treatment so that facilities for inpatient treatment are accessible right here in Eagle County.
Until then, we do have regional and state-level resources. You can reach a mental health professional or a peer specialist by calling 844-493-8255 or by texting TALK to 38255. Colorado’s Crisis and Support Line operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The service is free, confidential and available to anyone.
You can call whether you’re struggling with a mental or emotional problem, concerned about a friend, or seeking a referral. You can also find a list of walk-in centers and other resources at http://www.coloradocrisis services.org. Mental health care saves lives. A phone call is one place to start.
Chris Lindley is the Eagle County Public Health and Environment director. He is also a decorated combat veteran, receiving a Bronze Star while leading combat troops in Iraq.