Here House launches new mental health events with youth in mind

Conversation, communication at the center of five-part series


What: Watching Out for Each Other: Thriving in the Face of Overwhelming Stressors

When: “Opening the Conversation” kicks off the series Wednesday at 6 p.m. Additional events in the series are scheduled for Dec. 9 and 14, Feb. 10 and March 3.

Where: Here House (614 E. Cooper Ave., Aspen)

Cost: Free

More information:

Update: This story has been updated on Dec. 22 to reflect that the youth workshop (now called “For You, By You: Workshopping a Cultural Moment”) has been moved to Feb. 10 and the “Our Roadmap for Thriving” event has been moved to March 3.

Two events earlier this fall spurred Candice Carpenter Olson into action on the creation of a new community mental health series that launches Wednesday.

First, in late September, an Aspen Middle School student died by suicide. Second, in early October, parents and teachers at an Aspen City Council meeting pleaded for support to address substance use among local teens at the same meeting where another group sought the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms for psychedelic-assisted therapies. (Carpenter Olson is part of the group advocating for plant medicine as a method of mental health treatment.)

“I really was struck by the fact that if we want to even think about that for the adult community, first we have to make sure that we have fully supported everybody who’s raising kids here,” Carpenter Olson said.

Within a few weeks, she and Here House co-founder Michaela Carpenter had rallied more than half a dozen members of the local mental health community to participate as panelists for the series, dubbed “Watching Out for Each Other: Thriving in the Face of Overwhelming Stressors.”

Each event will focus on a different group: some are catered to parents or teens or young adults specifically; others bring some of those demographics together alongside community leaders or health professionals.

Wednesday’s kickoff, “Opening the Conversation,” aims to do just what its name suggests: get people talking. Therapist Jennifer Johnston-Jones and Lead with Love executive director Anne White will lead the discussion targeted at parents and other adults, with programming centered on understanding how personal experiences and collective stress can impact young people in the community.

“We’re really just going to try to establish a better understanding. … We all are carrying stresses, some from the past, some now, and that by being more aware of that, we can be more empathic with our kids, seeing that they, of course, would be having the same situation and better be able to kind of initiate conversations with them,” Carpenter Olson said.

Other programming this winter will expand on that conversation and center on support systems, resources, resilience and communication. A Dec. 9 installation, “Keeping Crisis at Bay,” targets teens, adults and health professionals; a Dec. 14 talk, “Finding a Path to Stability in Your 20s (and) 30s)” is aimed at young adults between the ages of 18 and 39.

Two other events will work in tandem: “For You, By You: Workshopping a Cultural Moment” invites middle and high school students for a full-day workshop Feb. 10 to discuss empathy and stressors, then develop communications and programming to bring awareness to the issue within their communities. Those participants will become panelists at “Our Roadmap for Thriving” on March 3 to present their work and recommendations.

Panelists in the series include Restorative Way founder Will Bledsoe and Aspen Strong Executive Director Angilina Taylor — both of whom will make multiple appearances — as well as other community members like Aspen Hope Center Executive Director Michelle Muething, life coaches Aaron Garland and Jamie Butemeyer, Aspen Real Life founder Jillian Livingston and Here House’s Michaela Carpenter.

They may kick off the discussion, but the goal of the series is to foster a conversation with and among the participants as much as it is to inform them of resources and support systems, Carpenter Olson said.

All that talk can and does have a real impact, according to panelist Bledsoe, who has spent the past two decades at the helm of Restorative Way with a focus on trauma-responsive communication. It’s especially valuable now, in a time that he has noticed “almost an existential or overwhelming sense of destabilization.”

“The way to move that (trauma) is to build our resilience and the way to build our resilience is to have conversations. … Conversation, communication can be an antidote to the existential anxiety that I think everybody’s facing,” said Bledsoe, who will be a panelist for “Keeping Crisis at Bay” as well as the student workshop and subsequent “Roadmap for Thriving” talk.

Developing methods for conflict resolution and recognizing and responding to trauma are part of the process too. But it starts with asking questions: “What concerns you? What keeps you up at night? What are you worried about?” Bledsoe said.

And listening is just as much a part of the equation — something Livingston sees a greater need for as a parent who raised three sons here; she’s part of the cohort leading the January workshop for students alongside Taylor, Bledsoe, Carpenter and Garland.

“I think what the young adults feel is that adults are talking to them, saying, ‘We want to help you,’ but they’re not asking them what kind of help they need,” Livingston said.

Livingston believes that “the systems (in place) aren’t necessarily working for our children,” she said. People are becoming more open about mental health, Livingston said, but she sees that there’s still a long way to go in building trust among parents and their kids when it comes to talking about mental health.

“I think everybody’s working immensely hard to get there, but I am always one who really sees holes and I’m seeing way too many holes, and I don’t have the experience to fix them,” she said, “but I just know we need something bigger than what we have right now.”