Yampa Valley mental health conference to be the 1st of its kind | CraigDailyPress.com

Yampa Valley mental health conference to be the 1st of its kind

Nicole Inglis

— Which came first, the substance abuse or the mental health disorder?

It's a chicken-and-egg scenario that behavioral health professionals have struggled with for years.

But there's no doubt about one fact: Northwest Colorado has a significant substance abuse issue, which in turn has widespread effects on its communities, said John Fleeker, Colorado West Regional Mental Health program director.

"We have a high level of substance abuse in this community," he said. "We see a lot of depression in our office, and anxiety issues, and certainly a lot of that can be caused by many, multiple issues."

So whether people abuse substances to mask depression or whether the depression stems from the legal, emotional and social issues of substance abuse, there's only one thing mental health resources can do.

"We fix it one individual, one family at a time," Fleeker said. "Steamboat is a wonderful town to live in. We've got a good community, a good place to raise our kids, and it's a very active, healthy community. But all communities have mental heath issues; all have substance abuse issues. It tends to be a little higher in resort communities."

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At this weekend's Yampa Valley Community Mental Health Conference, "Building a Caring Community," those issues will be brought to the surface for the benefit of health care professionals and community members.

The event, which begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at Sheraton Steamboat Resort, is sponsored by Routt County United Way, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, the Colorado Department of Healthcare Financing and Policy, the Jeffrey Allan Dye Suicide Prevention Project and Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

This first-of-its-kind conference began as a seedling of an idea planted in the heads of Ronna Autrey and Sandra Dye over lunch about a year ago.

Dye, who lost a son to suicide, and Autrey, the executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, wanted to raise awareness about mental health issues in Northwest Colorado and showcase the resources available.

Autrey said that in mid-April, they received a $10,000 grant to put on the event and make it free to the public.

Although the conference is open to health care professionals across the state, Autrey said the event is geared toward Yampa Valley community members. The event includes lunch, keynote speakers and breakout sessions throughout the day.

Advance registration is encouraged and can be completed by emailing yampavalleybcc@gmail.com.

The keynote speaker is Tina Meier, who lost her daughter, Meghan, to suicide in 2006 after an emotionally detrimental cyber-bullying attack.

Suicide is the worst consequence of mental health disorders, but Autrey said the event is aimed to encompass the broader issues of a community's mental wellness.

Breakout sessions will address topics such as art therapy, adolescent depression, the importance of exercise in mental health, domestic violence and veterans' health.

"Obviously, suicide is a huge issue, and a lot of these things lead to suicide if not addressed," Autrey said. "But it really does tie together. It can all ultimately come back to suicide."

The lunchtime keynote speaker will be Jarron Hindman, the director of the state Office of Suicide Prevention, who will focus on suicide prevention for men ages 25 to 54. Autrey said that Northwest Colorado suicides in the past decade have been skewed heavily toward that demographic.

But Autrey hopes that attendees will come away from the conference with a sense that there is hope in community awareness and local resources to prevent the detrimental effects of mental health problems.

"I hope we're showing that yes, all these things can all lead to suicide, but let's stop these patterns and issues before it gets to that," Autrey said. "Let's make this a healthier community. Let's make this a community that cares about one another."

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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