Experts advise people to take care of mental health during holidays
Editor’s note: This story mentions suicide and other mental heath topics. Resources for those struggling can be found below.
Local experts are pleading with those who are struggling to seek help and support as the holidays can bring added stress, and Routt County faces unprecedented mental health challenges.
“As much as we hype up the holidays, it can be a super stressful time,” said Mindy Marriott, executive director for Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide. “It’s really important to take proactive steps to protect your emotional well-being at this time of year more than ever.”
Marriott encouraged anyone who’s struggling to take a series of steps before stressful situations arise. Those steps include enlisting a support system, not being afraid to skip family events or other situations, being mindful of one’s alcohol intake, continuing to take necessary medications and keeping track of small wins.
– Colorado Crisis Services, ColoradoCrisisServices.org, 1-844-493-8255
– Northwest Colorado Health, NorthwestColoradoHealth.org, 970-879-1632
– Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (REPS), SteamboatSuicidePrevention.com, 970-846-8182
– The Health Partnership, TheHealthPartnership.org, 970-819-5657
– Minds in Motion, MindsInMotionCo.com 970-761-2249
All of those steps, Marriott said, can help reduce stress and sadness during a time that can be particularly stressful for many.
“We all have family members that don’t necessarily bring out the best in us, and you might feel obligated to show up to a holiday gathering, but if the thought of seeing certain people is taking a toll on your mental health, you have the right to avoid,” Marriott said.
Having a support system in place can also help a person through a particularly difficult time, Marriott added.
“If you know the holidays are going to be a hard time for you, reaching out to your support systems right now is key,” Marriott said. “It’s really easy to isolate when we’re feeling low, but letting others know how we feel in advance can provide a lifeline when you’re struggling.”
The suicide rate from 2000-2020 in Routt County was 20 suicides per 100,000 people, which is higher than the state’s rate of 18.62. The county has recorded 10 suicides in 2021, higher than any number the past five years, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education.
The Rocky Mountain region faces a high instance of depression at high elevations, and a higher rate of substance abuse, socioeconomic divides and skyrocketing costs of housing all play a part, said Angela Melzer, Minds in Motion executive director.
“People are working so hard, and their housing can be basically ripped out from under them at a whim if an owner wants to do something different for more money,” Melzer said.
Melzer acknowledged it can be difficult to notice telltale signs of suicidal ideation, but withdrawal, isolation, sudden changes in mood and other abnormal behavior should be causes for concern.
“Sometimes there are no signs, and I hate to say that because that’s not what people want to hear,” Melzer said. “But there have been some suicides in our community where there were no signs.”
Rather than trying to identify signs that may not be there, Melzer encouraged people to be diligent of those around them, ask how they are really doing and listen closely when the answer is given.
“Are we truly connecting and asking harder questions? Are we taking the time to maybe get off social media and actually pick up the phone and hear somebody’s voice?” Melzer asked. “I think something that we can do for each other in this community is having actual, real conversations.”
When listening to a friend or family member, putting down your cellphone and giving the person your full attention can go a long way, rather than sending a text message or social media chat.
“I don’t think that kind of a real check-in is going to happen if someone has their phone next to them,” Melzer said. “It’s hard to have real conversations when you’re trying to do three things at once.”
Lilia Luna, a clinical psychologist behavioral health director at Northwest Colorado Health, said finding a place of belonging in the community can greatly uplift someone’s mental health.
“Lack of access to connection to others and feeling like you belong is a really important element,” Luna said. “Lack of connection to purpose is also a huge factor.”
Though the holiday season can bring added difficulty, all three experts interviewed emphasized the need to ask for help, which is always available.
“I’ve never had a single person regret reaching out,” Melzer said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Just as battling mental health issues is not easy for many Routt County individuals, providing community mental health services is no easy task, especially with the added pressures of the pandemic.