Don’t wait for a crisis to look at mental health
6:30 p.m., Glenwood Springs library conference room
Jonathan Birnkrant, a psychiatrist and pediatrician, will offer a presentation about the neuroanatomy, chemistry and treatment of depression. A panel of mental health professionals will then lead a community discussion about mental wellness. The goals of our discussion are simply to promote connection, provide education, offer support, foster hope and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
Call Resa Hayes, 970-379-2763.
I wish I could count the times in my career I’ve been asked why the media publishes so much bad news.
The short answer is, well, it’s news.
I have a standard exercise when I’m speaking to a group and the question gets asked:
I ask people to raise their hands if they drove to the event. “OK, leave your hand up if you called anyone to say, ‘I got here safely, no tickets, no flat tires, no accidents. My car worked just fine.’”
People take note of things that don’t go the way they should. We turn our heads and gawk at accidents on the highway, and we read news stories about things that are out of the ordinary. News that I call crime and grime always gets the most digital traffic on our website, and a photo — just a photo — of a traffic accident is assured a bare minimum 1,000 page views. (I call that digital rubbernecking.)
This fact plays out just about daily in our digital metrics. On Friday, the PI’s main display on the front page was a story about two really wonderful teenagers, Joshua Rayne of Glenwood Springs High School and Ruby Lang of Roaring Fork High School. They are Daniels scholars who are hard workers with inspiring stories.
As of Saturday morning, not quite 600 people had read that story online.
A fatal traffic accident on Interstate 70 on Monday had more than 5,000 page views.
I know that you really do want good news and we work hard to include it in the mix. An ideal front page to me is a local feature and a news story — not necessarily crime, but a development in a key issue, a story that we have found through enterprising reporting or a trend piece.
While I know from years in the news business that people fuss about bad news even as they devour it, it is sometimes disheartening even to a grizzled, gruff editor who worked for six years in Detroit, the capital of bad news.
We know, for example, that struggles with mental health and suicide are big problems here. Suicide rates are, confoundingly, high throughout the Mountain West. Colorado specifically has a higher average suicide rate — nearly 20 per 100,000 people — than the national average of about 12 per 100,000. Advocates say the suicide rate in Aspen is three times the national average.
When an obituary appears in the Post Independent of someone who has committed suicide, it might get thousands of readers — 13,000 in the case of a younger local businessman who took his own life in December. Yet a series on prevention that reporter John Stroud wrote in February drew fewer than 2,000 page views combined for three stories.
I talked Friday with Resa Hayes, a licensed professional counselor who is working with a new nonprofit, AspenStrong.org, in putting on community “mental wellness” discussions. The group has held meetings in Aspen, El Jebel and Carbondale, and will hold another at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Glenwood Springs library conference room. The meetings have drawn as many as 40 people, which is a decent turnout, though it’s information we all need.
Hayes talked about the concept of mental wellness compared with physical fitness. Many of us exercise to stay fit. Others face a physical health crisis and make changes. We all at least know we should take care of our bodies.
It’s useful to think in the same terms about taking care of ourselves mentally. We all face varying degrees of mental and emotional distress in our lives. It’s part of the deal. In my own case, I’ve learned that almost everything that upsets me is of my own doing, and I work to take responsibility for my actions, reactions and perceptions. My view is that when I am disturbed, I’m mostly having trouble accepting reality. And getting around to accepting reality makes it hard to stew and stay mad.
Hayes told me that prevention, though, “is a scary thing to talk about.”
Hayes said people might be reluctant to attend even an informational meeting out of fear they will be stigmatized.
“Why would I expose that I have any symptoms?” she asked, expressing why some people might be reluctant to address prevention.
“But we know that’s what promotes mental wellness,” she said. “The earlier we get to underlying aggravations, the more we can do to provide mental wellness.” People can learn to identify their emotions and to build a toolbox of resources to cope.
The carrot: “Mental wellness is correlated to personal success and business success,” she said. Of course it is, as is, in general, physical fitness.
Just as almost all of us will experience some serious injury or illness at some point in our lives, almost all of us will face some kind of mental distress that tests us and perhaps pushes us to a place we’ve never been.
Isolation, Hayes says, is the worst thing you can do when you face that. The meeting Tuesday is an effort to build community connections and create easier access to mental health resources.
Maybe you don’t need to go to Tuesday’s meeting. But you should know what to do when the tough times come. Don’t wait for the crisis.
And, by the way, it’s not too late to read about Ruby and Joshua, our Daniels scholars. Their stories will make you feel good, I just about guarantee it.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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