Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center, referred to the current mental health challenges for many living in the Roaring Fork Valley as, “everyone’s line in the sand has decreased, and is very, very close to where they step every day on a regular basis” because of increased stress, anxiety and depression.
She added, “We’re seeing more and more people at their line in the sand. We all have this proverbial line in the sand with how much we can handle before we ‘lose it’ – whatever that means to a person. For some people, they slip, and they drink, and they’ve been sober for ten years; for some people, they throw in the towel, and they get divorced; and for other people, they end up in a bar fight – ‘losing it’ means something different to different people.”
Muething explained that the Aspen Hope Center, which provides mental health crisis management services, “is seeing that people aren’t identifying with major mental health illnesses.” People, she said, are coming forward with major life stressors and “their social determinants of health in their life are falling apart.”
She said, “Everyone used to say, ‘Suicide is a result of an untreated mental illness or a mental illness.’ The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] has now come out and said that’s not true anymore; it has to do with the social determinants of health – our social system, our support network, our finances, our environment, our access to medical care, our food, our shelter.”
Angilina Taylor, executive director of Aspen Strong, said that their mental health advocacy nonprofit has, since December 2020, hosted an online mental health group via Zoom on the second Wednesday of each month. On Oct. 13, Aspen Strong hosted what was announced as “the first-ever mental health support group to be live in the metaverse.”
Taylor explained that the “metaverse” option “adds another layer of anonymity” for attendees to comment and participate. She added, “A lot of young people are using that platform as well. So, because of the rise in mental health issues for our youth, we thought that would be a good way for more young people.”
In March 2020, Aspen Strong joined forces with Mind Springs Health, the Aspen Hope Center, the Mountain Family Health Center, public health departments, smaller mental health groups and over 30 individual practitioners within the Roaring Fork Valley to form the Mental Health Coordination Team (MHCT), to address the growing need for mental health services for those impacted by the pandemic.
In the beginning, Taylor explained, “We used it [MHCT] to convey a universal message and to let everyone know what mental health resources were available. Since then, we’ve used the group to identify gaps – who’s fulfilling what needs and, if there is a gap, who would be the best to fill that gap.” She said MHCT went from meeting once a week, at the pandemic’s inception, to currently meeting once a month.
Local mental health therapists are overloaded with patient appointment requests, and “they’re doing their best to keep up,” Taylor said.
Taylor stressed that if you are experiencing feeling overwhelmed or have nowhere to turn in your despair, say something to someone and ask for help. She said, “I think the bigger issue, or the bigger sorrow for all of us, is when you’re gone, so just remember that people love you and care about you. Let people know what is going on inside of your head so that somebody can be there for you and get you the kind of help that you need.”