Editor’s note: This story mentions suicide and other mental health issues. Resources for those struggling can be found below.
Local experts are appealing to those struggling to seek help and support because the holidays can bring extra stress, and Root County faces unprecedented mental health challenges.
“As much as we inflate the holidays, it can be a very stressful time,” said Mindy Marriott, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide. “It’s really important to take proactive steps to protect your emotional integrity at this time of year more than ever.”
Marriott encourages anyone who is struggling to take a series of steps before stressful situations arise. These steps include having a support system in place, not being afraid to skip family events or other situations, being aware of one’s alcohol intake, continuing to take needed medications, and tracking small gains.
Marriott said all of these steps can help reduce stress and grief during a time that can be particularly stressful for many.
“We all have family members who don’t necessarily bring out the best in us, and you may feel compelled to attend a holiday gathering, but if the thought of seeing certain people negatively impacts your mental health,” Marriott said.
Marriott added that having a support system can also help a person during particularly difficult times.
“If you know the holidays are going to be a tough time for you, accessing your support systems right now is key,” Marriott said. “It’s really easy to isolate when we’re feeling low, but letting others know beforehand how we’re feeling can provide a lifeline when you’re struggling.”
The 2,000 to 2020 suicide rate in Root County was 20 suicides per 100,000 people, higher than the state’s rate of 18.62. The county recorded 10 suicides in 2021, higher than any other number in the past five years, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education.
Angela Melzer, CEO of Minds in Motion, said the Rocky Mountain region faces a high incidence of depression at high altitudes, a higher rate of drug abuse, socioeconomic divisions and high housing costs all play a role.
“People work hard, and their dwellings can basically be ripped out from under them on a whim if the owner wants to do something different to get more money,” Melzer said.
Melzer acknowledged that it can be difficult to notice the telltale signs of suicidal ideation, but withdrawal, isolation, sudden changes in mood, and other abnormal behaviors should be cause 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 might not be there, Melzer encourages people to be diligent in their dealings with those around them, ask them how they are doing and listen closely when the answer is given.
“Do we really communicate and ask harder questions? Do we take the time maybe to just give up social media and actually pick up the phone and hear someone’s voice?” Melzer asked. “I think something we can do for each other in this community is have real, real conversations.”
When listening to a friend or family member, letting go of your mobile phone and giving your full attention to the person can go a long way, rather than texting or chatting on social media.
“I don’t think that kind of real check-in would happen if someone was next to their phone,” Melzer said. “It’s hard to have real conversations when you’re trying to do three things at once.”
Finding a place to belong in the community can significantly elevate a person’s mental health, said Lilia Luna, MD, director of behavioral health at Northwest Colorado Health, a clinical psychologist.
“The inability to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging is a really important component,” Luna said. “The lack of connection to the goal is also a huge factor.”
Although the holiday season can bring additional difficulty, the three experts interviewed emphasized the need to seek help, which is always available.
“No one has ever regretted reaching out to him,” Melzer said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.