Aspen keeps tabs on mental health collaboration, conversation in 2022

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Panelist Miller Ford, left, speaks as Chelsea Carnoali and Angilina Taylor listen on Monday, November 29, 2021, during an ‘Aspen Together’ mental health event inside the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.
Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times

For those struggling with mental health issues, it has been a tough year. A tough few years, in fact, with the pandemic and all the other aggravating stressors that have contributed to a community here that has long struggled with mental health according to statistics and anecdotes.

Aspen town officials – like so many in the Roaring Fork Valley – had mental health on their minds in 2021. The needs of the community sparked a number of heated conversations at Town Hall. This year.

“We have all been affected recently by some of the cases of suicide and depression that we have heard from our community,” said the mayor of Aspen Torre. “It had a real impact on us. “



Enough impact for the city to host “Aspen Together,” a suicide prevention and mental health awareness event at the Wheeler Opera House in late November. (Other similar programs also took place at the Wheeler in 2017).

See this as the start of more participation in the conversation about community mental health in the future, said Torre. The city does not aim to become its own provider of mental health care, but rather a supporter of existing resources; Aspen city council already has a date on the books in early January for council members to meet with local providers to learn more about the mental health landscape, Torre said.



“The conversation for us is really a heightened concern and a call to action to do all we can to raise awareness and bring people to the resources we have,” said Torre.

These resources are plentiful in the Roaring Fork Valley, providers and advocates noted, although there are fractures in the mental health care system as a whole, the availability of a variety of providers in the region helps. to fill in some of the gaps.

Working with the valley’s pros is an idea City Councilor Ward Hauenstein can support.

“We can’t be the experts on everything that comes up, but we can rely on the experts and that’s what we’re trying to do is raise awareness – not just awareness, but skills and tools. to engage people and know how to engage people and when to engage them and not hesitate when someone is in need, ”said Hauenstein.

The last months of 2021 marked progress in this effort; several community initiatives are already carrying the torch in 2022.

This includes the Pitkin Area Corresponder Teams (PACT) program, which sends clinicians from Mind Springs Health and social service workers from the Aspen Police Department to mental health calls and also supports law enforcement in the village. of Snowmass and Pitkin County unincorporated.

The program was ultimately successful in convincing staff to move from a four-day to seven-day-a-week schedule this fall. Aspen Deputy Police Chief Linda Consuegra, who is helping coordinate this program, said in an interview in early November that she considered it “the # 1 success” of a partnership between the service. police and Mind Springs “to be able to have a fully operational PACT team.”

Other awareness and education events have also started to populate the calendar this year: seminars on mental wellness; education on how to identify, treat and prevent mental health crises; public series aimed at creating a space for frank conversation and support groups for those who are currently struggling.

Torre said he hopes the focus on mental health will be a “conversation continuum” as the community looks to 2022 and beyond. Meeting the mental health needs of the community will not be a “one-off and done” task, he said; Torre sees the Aspen Together event as a “big kickoff” and a “big first step” towards more action on this front.

“If the mental health of your (community) is not a priority (as a board) then many other areas that you might want to work on won’t be as effective, as the main one is making sure that people have their basic needs taken care of, and one of them is mental health, ”said Torre.

It also means tackling external factors that can strain the mental health of the local community, such as housing insecurity and aggravating stress for people working in the service sector, said city councilor Skippy Mesirow.

The effort goes beyond board conversations or community programs, Mesirow said.

“I think what is needed to experience this moment is a collective and unified cultural shift,” Mesirow said. “It’s a challenge that can be funded by programs, institutions, government, but ultimately it is taken up by us as individuals, as citizens, isn’t it? And these are the choices we make every day about how to treat each other, how to respond to challenges, how to support a neighbor – over time, this is really where it will or will not be resolved.

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