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Aspen council continues push to elevate mental health conversation

Mental health first-aid training sessions in works before ski season, but great community event in short-term could be challenging

After a robust conversation last week about the mental health concerns in Aspen, the City Council on Monday night stressed it would like to host a community forum, or at least take a stronger role in being the conduit to connect resources, for those who need help in a crisis.

The council reiterated at its work session that a community forum could be a great beginning step, and having that before or at the start of the ski season would be helpful to those who might be struggling as winter comes on. It was suggested last week that a community meeting, such as one held in 2017 at the Wheeler Opera House, would be a way to bring local concerns to the forefront of the conversation.

“The ball is rolling. Just because of our conversation last week, the ball is rolling,” Mayor Torre said Monday night. “What would be great is in a month from now, mid-November, to have that next presence … that next step that we’re doing (something). Whether it’s a meeting at the Wheeler, and again, it’s not just about a meeting at the Wheeler because that’s only about 400 people if full, it’s about the ripple effect … it’s about that awareness and continuing to build. I think there is an opportunity there for something.”



There are plans in the works for the city to underwrite and host at least two mental health first aid training sessions that would help people recognize when they or a friend, family member or co-worker is struggling. More than just training, the council said it would like to see the city be the leader in the conversation.

While those trainings will be helpful, Mayor Torre said there is a sense of urgency that even more should be done before the winter season.




City Manager Sara Ott, who is working with city staff to set up the training, stressed that the city should be a facilitator and collaborate with local organizations who already work in the field.

MENTAL HEATH SURVEY

Pitkin County Public Health is currently hosting a mental health survey, hoping to get a better picture of community’s mental health needs and what support is and isn’t available for those who live, work and learn here.

The anonymous survey includes 27 questions and takes about 10 minutes to complete. For more information, go to pitkincounty.com/civicalerts.aspx?AID=446. The survey is available in Spanish and in English.

“There are so many people in this community doing programming in this area already,” Ott said. “I would want to ensure any efforts are not duplicated but are supportive of those existing efforts. … It’s going to take some planning time because I’m not sure how good the inventory is right now from mental health.”

She said the first aid sessions are all-day events and take a commitment, but they have seen results in other communities. The session would give people the skills and tools to deal with an extreme crisis situation.

The city staff is making steps to offer the daylong class at least twice before the ski season starts, and the city will underwrite the cost for the community, she said. And if more are needed, the city would continue to invest in the training.

However, she said a larger community event to address the mental health concerns needs more time and suggested it should come at the start of 2022.

“I don’t think that just throwing a bunch of people in a room without having a really well-thought-out agenda and approach and expectations will serve us well in the long run,” Ott said. “We need a little time to work on that.”

The council again said they would like to have some kind of “kickoff event” before the ski season to give newcomers as well as locals a chance to get better connected to Roaring Fork Valley organizations.

“What you’ve done is set the groundwork for moving forward really effectively,” Torre said to Ott, “but I think we are looking at some sort of kickoff prior to this winter of a community gathering, a community get-together.”

The council agreed with Ott’s assessment that the city should be a facilitator, and added that perhaps it’s not an event before ski season but a campaign by the city to raise the awareness of organizations who might not have a high profile.

“It’s about helping those groups out there get a greater voice and more of a platform to connect people in need with the services available,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said.

The mayor said raising awareness about resources and training people is a big first step, but it is important for the community to know the city leaders want to take an active role in the overall mental health discussion. He said officials in Snowmass Village and Basalt also should be part of the push.

“Maybe it’s our voice that can elevate and support those organizations that are already doing this. … This is not something we want to take over,” Torre said. “This is something that we want to support but in a way that comes from us.

“We can’t just say these people are out there doing this work so let’s have them continue doing it, because there is a piece that’s missing, and that piece that is missing is connecting our community a little bit more to these resources and this information.”


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