Gearing up for mental health

by Sarah Johnson

sarahjohnsonphotoNot long ago I heard Stacy Bare talk about how rock climbing saved his life.

Bare, a 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year who has made a career of getting people outdoors through his expedition work with veterans, kids in poverty and others, was in Grand Junction speaking to a group of local outdoor industry leaders. He described the PTSD he experienced after military service in Iraq, the substance abuse and the feelings of hopelessness that led him to the brink of suicide. A friend told him something along the lines of, “You can kill yourself tomorrow. Today we’re going climbing.”

That day on Boulder’s Flatirons led to more encouragement from his friend and more days on the rock wall, until everything was different.

“Without rock climbing I’m pretty confident I’d be pushing up daisies,” Bare told the outdoor recreation website hipcamp.com last year. “Time outdoors introduced me to a group of people that accepted me for who I was, helped me define a new set of goals, commit to training, and gave me the encouragement I needed to seek out professional mental health treatment. It gave me a purpose and mission, supported my sobriety, helped me end addiction, made me happier and more positive in general, helped me lose about 40 pounds, keeps me sane. The list goes on and on.”

Here in Mesa County, mental health is on a lot of minds. We have some of the highest rates of completed and attempted suicide in the nation, but data suggests that many people here do not feel like they can ask for help: According to the 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey, 38.3% of Mesa County respondents did not feel comfortable talking to a health professional about personal problems, and 48.9% reported being concerned about what would happen if someone found out they had a problem.

Mind Springs Health, Mesa County’s community mental health center, notes that one in four adults are affected by a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That’s more than diabetes and comparable to heart disease; it’s practically a given that someone you know is struggling with mental health.

One of the most important things we can do in our community is to make seeking mental health treatment not only OK but the expectation – just like it is for diabetes and heart disease. But we can also take small individual steps that have a big impact on our mental health, like getting outside and being active.

“If we could package the outdoors and call it a pharmaceutical, it would be sold widely,” said Tyler Norris, vice president of total-health partnerships at Kaiser Permanente, in a 2016 Outside Magazine article. Exercise, in general, improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.

In Mesa County, with its great neighborhood parks, 242 days of sunshine a year and where more than 70% of the county is public land, we can take those simple steps to improve our mental health, no gym membership required. On September 16, we also have a unique opportunity to get outside, be active, connect with each other, and increase awareness of mental health all at the same time.

Healthier Colorado, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the voices of Coloradans to improve the health of our state’s residents, is hosting Gearing up for Mental Health: Grand Junction, a free family-friendly community event that aims to de-stigmatize mental health and put it on equal footing with physical health. The event starts with a 2-mile bike parade (or walk) through downtown, followed by a Wellness Fair with local nonprofits and organizations focused on mental, behavioral, and physical health. Bike decorating supplies will be provided, as well as FREE LUNCH, face painting, a bounce house, and more.

Register for this fun event here.

Mind Springs Health will be holding their annual Recovery Festival on the same day. This free event, organized by individuals impacted by mental illness, is a “day celebrating recovery, recognizing and discussing individual strengths and successes, and realizing the power of walking together.” Lunch will be served there, too; RSVP here.

You can make your voice heard on mental health and other health issues when the Colorado Health Institute visits Mesa County to gather data for the next Colorado Health Access Survey. They will be in Grand Junction on September 19 at 9am, RSVP here by September 8 to participate.

When it comes to the stigma of mental health, we have a lot of work to do. And it’s important work, because it has the potential to save lives. But if we can get closer to the goal by going for a hike or by putting streamers on our bikes and eating lunch together in the park, doing our part sounds pretty good. Hope to see you at one of these events soon!

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