“I was 13 when I first noticed the nagging urge to wash my hands after I touched doorknobs or my locker. What started as a small problem spiraled out of control very quickly. I spent hours washing my hands. No one could touch me. My parents couldn’t hug me.”

Today, Lisa, a former Telluride resident, shares her story about her experience growing up in Telluride with a mental health disorder in order to help the community better understand mental illness and recovery.  

Lisa and her family had trouble finding a local expert to obtain a diagnosis and once diagnosed, they endured monthly two-hour trips for treatment. Fortunately for Lisa, her symptoms were recognized early, her family was persistent in seeking an answer and treatment worked.  

“I will probably always be on medication or in therapy. My illness is something that I will have to manage all my life. It was a good idea for me to build up my toolbox and figure out ways to cope,” Lisa said.  

Lisa’s story is not unique. Mental illnesses are common and treatable. One in five individuals will experience a mental health or substance use disorder each year in Colorado, but only 40 percent of those individuals will receive treatment; the average person waits up to 10 years from the onset of symptoms to get treatment. For those who receive treatment, 90 percent recover.

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle. Finding an available therapist, navigating health insurance and coping with the stigma associated with mental illness are among the factors that often prevent individuals from seeking care.  

May is Mental Health Month — a month to focus on mental health and wellness and to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone.

A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of a mental health illness, and it can also help people recovering from and living with a mental illness. For individuals who may be living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or a heart condition, it can be especially important to focus on mental health and wellness.

Tri-County Health Network (TCHNetwork) focuses on the impact and intersection of chronic conditions and mental health.

“It is important to really look at your overall health, both physically and mentally, to achieve wellness,” said Sami Damsky, TCHNetwork behavioral health outreach coordinator.

In 2019, we encourage individuals and communities to explore the topics of self-care, including animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, recreation, and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.

“We know that living a healthy lifestyle is not always easy, but it can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes,” Damsky said. “Finding the balance between work and play, the ups and downs of life, physical health and mental health, can help you on the path toward focusing on both mind and body. Finding a reason to laugh, going for a walk with a friend, meditating or playing with a pet can go a long way in making you both physically and mentally healthy. It’s all about finding the right balance to benefit both the mind and body.”

Lisa recognized the factors that allowed her to return to feeling normal, including education and connecting with others.

“Perseverance, receiving help from others and educating myself about my condition are all reasons why I am still alive and able to handle my symptoms and be a real person again,” she said.

During Mental Health Month, TCHNetwork hopes that you will take the time to learn more about mental health and wellness. Sign up for a Mental Health First Aid class with TCHNetwork at 970-708-7096 or info@tchnetwork.org. Contact your legislators and encourage them to honor our parity laws so that physical and mental health is treated equally by insurers. Advocate for more school-based resources, such as teletherapy, in order to provide our young people with the skills and tools to thrive on their way to adulthood.

If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, text HOME to 741741 or call the Colorado Crisis Line at 1-844-493-2555.

Finally, remember that Mental Health Matters. We all have a role to play in helping ourselves and our families, friends and community members to maintain our mental health every day of the year, not just in May.

Paul Reich is Tri-County Health Network’s behavioral health program manager.