Mountain life depressing?
August 1, 2008
ASPEN ” Clinical depression in the mountains is more likely to lead to suicide.
That, according to Dr. Robert Freedman, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is cause to “pay more attention to depression” in mountain communities.
Freedman was in Aspen Thursday as part of the fourth annual mental health convocation put on by the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation.
Mountain life might seem “idyllic,” Freedman said, but among a young, adventurous population, it means use of guns and an increased likelihood of “successful” suicide.
“Our suicide rate in the mountain states is 30 percent higher,” Freedman said.
The mental health convocation was formed as a response to some 17 local suicides over a three-month period in 2004.
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And Thursday’s meeting was a chance for mental-health workers to gather in Aspen ” this year at The Gant ” to make connections and ensure that people in need of help don’t fall through the cracks, said AVMF executive director Kris Marsh.
Marsh first congratulated two local case workers who sprang into action in the wake of Wednesday’s tragic death of a Miami attorney in the Grottos on Independence Pass.
Two local case workers were on call for the man’s family and friends, staying late into the evening at Aspen Valley Hospital.
“To me, that’s an example of how unique and special this community is,” Marsh said.
But rural Pitkin County and Aspen are also communities with unique challenges.
In the keynote address at the convocation, Dr. Christopher Schneck, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, outlined the history of depression ” it’s diagnosis and treatment ” from the ancient diagnosis of “melancholia” to the antidote of current medication cocktails and electrode implants.
Between 15 and 17 percent of people experience depression in their lifetime, but only 50 percent seek treatment, Schneck said.
And men are less likely to reach out for help.
There are 32,000 suicides in the U.S. each year, accounting for 1.4 percent of all deaths and more than twice the number of homicides.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 25 to 35, Schneck said.
And there is no blanket cure, nor specific part of the brain or neural pathway that can
Diagnosis and treatment are unique to individual. And while new drugs and combinations of drugs are important, they’ve not proved effective on diseases such as bipolar disorder, Schneck said.
He stressed the importance of psychotherapy and the positive effects of a long-term doctor/patient relationship.
“They really need somebody who is in their court,” Schneck said.
David Crutchfield, program director of the Aspen Counseling Center, said Aspen faces the common challenges of other mountain regions.
“I think people are reluctant to seek treatment,” Crutchfield said, adding that especially men are reluctant to talk about their feelings.
Area resources, Crutchfield said, are expanding, with increased substance-abuse support through The Right Door. He added, however, that there could be more family programs and marriage counseling in the area.