Aspen Hope Center gears up for Tuesday and Wednesday events
The Aspen Times
In a place like Aspen, where recreational and social pursuits are endless, the assumption is that everyone ought to be having a good time. But it’s that assumption that can intensify or stifle the need to share the truth, which is that not everything is always wonderful.
That’s the opinion of Dr. Carl Hammerschlag, a Yale-trained, Patch Adams-linked psychiatrist who will speak at the Wheeler Opera House on Tuesday, when the Aspen Hope Center kicks off a new mental-health campaign. Hammerschlag said he plans to address the myth purported by media and pharmaceutical companies that if you’re feeling something other than wonderful in every moment, you could have a disease, for which there is a pill.
“This is ridiculous,” Hammerschlag said by phone from Arizona on Thursday. “It’s become virtually un-American to feel anything other than wonderful. I’m suggesting it’s ordinary, and you don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness, and it doesn’t mean you have to have drugs prescribed.”
Overdependence on pills and skewed definitions for the ups and downs of life are a few of the topics Hammerschlag will address. As he described it, he will touch on the cultural shift from the old paradigm, pills and medication, to prediction and prevention and identifying a wealth of untapped resources in every community.
“In an age of computer technology and increased communication and unbridled influence, we still suffer from existential loneliness and despair,” he said. “We need to connect with people in a heartfelt way before we are four sheets to the wind and do something to ourselves.”
During a public meeting with friend and fellow physician Adams, Hammerschlag said he discovered one of the “profound lessons” of mental health: that you need to get out of your head and into your heart.
“Most doctors get heavily into our heads. It’s what we’re well-trained in,” he said. “We tend not to pay a whole lot of attention to our hearts because it distorts our clinical objectivity.”
Fear of performance, consequences and expectations, for example, can be crippling, Hammerschlag said. All people learn things along the way that help them to survive, he added, but there are lessons learned that are not especially useful or constructive.
He said one of the points of the Aspen Hope Center event is to make boundaries more permeable so people know they are not alone.
“There’s somebody who hears you,” Hammerschlag said of the forum, which will serve as a follow-up to the Hope Center’s community event held in March.
Executive Director Michelle Muething said this meeting will focus less on statistics and more on community connection and healing.
“The forum this time is going to be much more focused on connection, inspiration and really energizing the community to stay aware all year long and help each other so suicide rates can decrease,” Muething said of the $10 event.
Since March, the Hope Center has met with various groups in Aspen, including religious organizations, schools, public health officials and businesses, to increase training and awareness on suicide response. The Hope Center is offering to educate employees and interested parties on the issue, and Muething estimates that so far Hope Center officials and volunteers have trained 15 to 20 groups.
“We have asked organizations, companies, businesses to come on board with us to unite the community,” board President Sandy Iglehart said.
Muething said Aspen’s high suicide rate is well-known, but what’s behind the front-page news — Iraq War veteran Casey Owens became the most recent victim on Oct. 15 — are the success stories. During that same week, Muething said the Hope Center had four individuals in its virtual intensive outpatient program.
“Our (program) had four people that could have possibly been in the hospital, but instead they were in our program — wrapped with community resources, clinicians, peer support — and all four of them are alive and well and walking around the valley today,” she said. “For every suicide that’s reported in the paper, I would love a little space on the front page of every paper because I could literally put a success story there every day.”
For those seeking help, either for themselves or a loved one, the Hope Center offers a 24-hour hotline (970-925-5858) as well as resources at http://www.aspenhope center.org. The Hope Center is also hosting a cocktail party and book signing with Hammerschlag at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Justice Snow’s.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.