Think of it as CPR for the mind: Not only can it save a life, and with enough practice but training, a layperson can learn how to do it.
The difference? People tend to be much more open to learning CPR than they are to being trained to address and handle mental illness.
A forum scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Wilkinson Public Library aims to change that — or at least to get people talking about and aware of the issue of mental health on the Western Slope.
“It’s a way to convene the general community and to raise awareness around the issues of mental health and suicide,” said Erich Lange, community engagement specialist at the Tri-County Health Network, which is hosting the discussion and offers its own mental health first aid trainings.
The forum will begin with a question and answer session. It will also touch on the mental health resources available in the area and how those not in the medical community can identify and support people struggling with mental health issues. Representatives from the Center for Mental Health, the Telluride Medical Center, San Miguel County Nursing and Social Services, the San Miguel County Resource Center, Alpine Chapel and the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office will be on hand. Lunch will be provided.
One of the hopes for the discussion, Lange said, is that by demystifying mental health issues, the stigma surrounding mental illness will start to lessen, encouraging more people to seek help.
“I think people do shy away from going to seek care, whether it’s available to them or not,” Lange said, noting that mental health resources on the Western Slope are relatively limited.
The discussion will also educate people on how to access local mental health resources and how to identify and address warning signs in friends or family members.
Organizers said they’ve been discussing issues of mental health and suicide for years, but a recent outbreak of suicides in San Miguel County this year — at least four confirmed in Mountain Village, Norwood, Ophir and Telluride — has underscored the need for greater community involvement.
“San Miguel County has been hit hard this past spring,” said Paul Reich, president of the R-1 School District Board and a member on the board of the Center for Mental Health.
“Every suicide is ultimately preventable, and although sometimes we think, ‘The experts should handle it,’ the reality is all of us could do better when we see people who are hurting,” Reich said. “We need to get (mental health issues) out of the shadows.”
That’s what Tri-County Health Network tries to encourage with its mental health first aid programs, which Lange described as eight-hour, comprehensive trainings that allow members of the public to serve as “conduits to care” for those facing mental illness. (These trainings are separate from Wednesday’s event, but Lange said Tri-County hopes to roll them out to the general public, as well).
For those currently in crisis, the Center for Mental Health offers a 24-hour crisis line at 970-252-6220.