It’s every person’s worst nightmare. The middle of the night phone call, or the knock at the door in the early morning hours or the endless night spent waiting and wondering ...
The suicide earlier this year of Stewart Oksenhorn, the arts and entertainment editor for the Aspen Times, brought the stark, horrifying truth about mental illness to the forefront once again. My heart goes out to Stewart’s family as they try to fit the puzzle pieces together.
Here are some shocking statistics according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
• One in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 people live with serious mental illness like schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
• Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For kids ages 8-15, about 13 percent experience a severe mental disorder.
• About 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of children and youths with mental illness have received no mental health services in the past year.
• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death — more common than homicide — and the third leading cause of death for those in the 15-24 year range.
• Veterans represent 20 percent of suicides nationally. Each day about 22 veterans die by suicide.
The advice people give sounds easy: Just go get help, go talk with someone — fix it. But the truth is that it is not that easy, particularly in Colorado.
In 2006, NAMI graded states based on 39 criteria. The national grade was a D. Colorado was one of two states to receive a “U” because they simply did not respond.
In our own area adequate help for those with mental illness has been woefully lacking. Hamstrung by rules and regulations it is often difficult, if not impossible, for a family member to intervene to get help for their loved one — no matter how desperate they are.
Often those with a mental illness fail to recognize their illness. When they are in crisis there is little logical thought about steps to take to get help. Almost the only option is an involuntary commitment if the person is “gravely disabled” — most often threatening to harm themselves or someone else. Generally, this requires the involvement of law enforcement, often untrained in dealing with mental illness, and the emergency room at the local hospital.
Sometimes a 72-hour hold for assessment can take place. This is not a pleasant experience for the mentally ill person or for their family, and many are hesitant to use this option.
Commonly, those who are facing a mental health issue experience a downward spiral without an imminent emergency. This can be very frustrating. Sometimes the individual recognizes a problem and reaches out. However, since they are not in crisis, they must jump through seemingly endless hoops. Frequently the person simply gives up.
Fortunately, a group of involved citizens cared enough to form a peer group to affiliate with NAMI Colorado. Roaring Fork NAMI’s mission, according to its website, is “to build communities of recovery and hope by educating, supporting and advocating for individuals affected by mental illness and their families.” In other words: You are not alone.
No one should ever have to face mental illness alone. They are working with Aspen Hope Center and Mind Springs Health (formerly Colorado West Mental Health) for outreach and training. The Roaring Fork NAMI group has begun by meeting with and encouraging law enforcement to train in appropriate ways to deal with those in crisis. The group is also reaching out to veterans groups.
Education for family members is also a key objective of the Roaring Fork NAMI group. Perhaps one of the most useful tools are monthly meetings where families of those with a mental illness can meet in a safe environment and share their stories, struggles and triumphs.
If you are facing mental health issues it is critical to reach out. If your loved one is not able to get help, then be their advocate, be their voice. Don’t give up. You are not alone!
Aspen Hope Center: 970-925-5858
Mind Springs: 888-207-4004
Roaring Fork NAMI: 970-618-7770, firstname.lastname@example.org
NAMI Colorado: www.namicolorado.org
Disclaimer: Kathy Trauger is not associated with NAMI, and this does not reflect an opinion or position held by NAMI.
— Kathy Trauger is a Glenwood Springs resident and writer who blogs about Glenwood Springs at www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com. She chairs the Glenwood Springs Planning & Zoning Commission and is a member of the Transportation Commission and the Victims and Law Enforcement Board.