From the editor: It’s OK not to be OK

Mental health is not an easy topic to discuss. It’s hard to share our struggles, especially if we find ourselves dealing with depression, anxiety, toxic stress, substance abuse, an eating disorder, traumatic grief or thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

According to numerous studies, the stigma surrounding mental health is a huge barrier to getting help, and it keeps many from reaching out to friends and family when they need support, and instead, people often go into battle alone. In a 2019 study, the Colorado Health Institute reported nearly 1 in 10 Coloradans said there was a time when they didn’t get the mental health care they needed, and of those, more than one in four said it was because they were afraid someone would find out.

In a small community like Steamboat Springs, which many view as paradise, that deep-seated stigma becomes more complicated.

“How can I really feel down when I live in such a beautiful place?”

“Everyone seems so happy and healthy here; I don’t think my friends would understand why I’m feeling alone and anxious and sad.”

“I’m afraid to make a therapy appointment. What if someone sees me walking into a therapist’s office?”

And in 2021, we’re still dealing with the trauma of COVID-19, which made us feel isolated, unbalanced, stressed out and, at times, afraid. According to a survey conducted by the High Plains Research Network, people in Colorado were nine times more likely to report poor mental health during the pandemic than they were before COVID-19 shut down the state.

The feelings triggered by the pandemic are exacerbated by other issues that come with living in a mountain community, including a lack of affordable housing, the high cost of living, the underlying “party town” vibe and limited access to mental health care.

All of these issues combined are what led the Steamboat Pilot & Today news team to tackle the topic of mental health for this year’s in-depth reporting series, which we’re calling “Out of the Shadows.” Through our reporting, we want to shine a light on mental health issues in Routt County, let people know it’s OK not to be OK and provide a lifeline of resources to those who find themselves in a place where they are ready to seek help.

Pilot & Today journalists have been working on this series since February. They have dug deep and never thought twice about pursuing a project of this magnitude while also working diligently to keep our community informed about living life during a pandemic. I am proud of their efforts on all fronts, and this series is testament to the talented team we have out covering the news of Steamboat Springs and Routt County each and every day.

I hope our readers will dive into this series over the next six weeks. Each Wednesday, we will publish another installment with topics that cover suicide, substance use disorder, mental health and the courts, access to care and stigma. We’ll also be offering inspirational stories of community members who are courageously sharing their mental health journey in the hopes of helping break down stigma.

I also encourage readers to join the #Move4MentalHealth community challenge, which we have launched in conjunction with the series. The genesis of the effort came from the understanding that mental health is part of physical health, and the two are tied together. There is research to show that getting outside, moving your body and feeling sunshine on your face is not only good for your body but for your mind and heart as well. We invite you to “follow” our #Move4MentalHealth group on Facebook, post on the page and invite your friends to participate. There is also an opportunity to donate to REPS — Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide — through the campaign.

It’s time to start addressing the stigma surrounding mental health by openly and honestly talking about these issues. One of the overarching goals of the series is to break down barriers through education and information, and begin addressing the lack of access to mental health services in our remote corner of the state as well as the cost of these services. It’s my hope that Out of the Shadows lives up to its name and is the catalyst for a community conversation that sparks change and more open dialogue about mental health.

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