‘Mental Hygiene’ up for discussion Wednesday in Aspen
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What: Mental Hygiene, a conversation about youth anxiety, depression and suicide challenges in the Roaring Fork Valley
When: 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Where: The Inn at Aspen
A little over two weeks ago, Georgina Levey, once an educator at Aspen Middle School, learned a former student of hers took his life.
Levey said she remembered the student from her fifth-grade class, recalling that he was exhibiting signs of trouble then.
As gut-wrenching as it was to hear about her former student, Levey said the news also strengthened her resolve to start a community discussion concerning Aspen-area youth and their challenges with mental health. She had been working on such an event for more than a year, and then the news hit.
“When I lost a student to suicide two-and-a-half weeks ago, I decided I have to do it myself,” Levey said Monday. “I’m tired of waiting to see how all of this will come together, and I reached out to my contacts.”
Levey began working the phones, calling what she said was “every possible organization” locally that could help with the event on short notice, from hospitals to mental-health services. She also contacted Aspen Mayor Torre, city council members, county commissioners and other local leaders.
This week, Levey will not be alone. With the help of such organizations devoted to youth mentoring and mental health as Aspen Strong, Aspen Family Connections and Stepping Stones of Carbondale, as well as Aspen Youth Center, Aspen Chapel and Snowmass Chapel, Levey has put together an event called Mental Hygiene, which is scheduled 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Inn at Aspen, located at the base of Buttermilk Ski Area.
On hand will be health professionals and information about resources available in the Roaring Fork Valley concerning youth anxiety, depression and suicide. The event will focus on helping those ages 24 and younger, Levey said.
Unlike other events addressing mental health — with a keynote speaker or a panel discussion, for instance — Mental Hygiene will be conversation-oriented, Levey said.
“I don’t want to sit in a roomful of presentations any more,” she said. “I’d rather have a conversation about it.”
Levey said she believes the Aspen area is in crisis mode when it comes to youth mental health, and it’s going to take more than a forum or two to suss out what is a complex topic fueled by varying factors.
Aside from the heartbreaking stories of local suicides, statistics also show a higher rate of area youth struggle than their Colorado peers.
Among the mountain counties of Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit, 15.9% of their children sought mental health care from 2015 to 2017, higher than the state’s 15.3% mark, according to the Colorado Child Health Survey.
And of high school students in the same four-county region, 17.7% seriously considered suicide, compared with the state average of 17%, based on findings from Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of 2017.
For Levey, the harrowing stories and troubling statistics are personal because she has taught Aspen students who committed suicide. They also are personal because she was raised and grew up in Aspen. And they’re even more personal because her family has battled with mental health, Levey included.
“I walked away from teaching struggling with mental health, and I don’t mind saying that,” said Levey, who worked at AMS for 18 years.
Levey is a parent and remains active with public education but in different capacities. These days she drives a school bus for the Aspen School District, and she works as an education advocate for families with children who might need tutoring or are home-schooled.
Wednesday’s gathering won’t offer up a one-size-fits-all answer, because that’s now how mental health works, Levey said.
“I think people want to singularly blame social media and technology, but I think it’s a more complex issue,” she said. “Certainly technology plays a role, but that’s not the whole story.”
This week’s Mental Hygiene event will start what Levey hopes to be a continuing conversation about youth mental health, Levey said. More important, she said, is for the community to get a clearer idea of what the valley needs to better address the ongoing issue.
Levey said she expects a good turnout, and she’s advising people to arrive early. Those who are interested in attending but cannot make the event can complete what is called a “Community Conversation Interest Form,” which is available at https://bit.ly/2vl5Sxi.
“The whole point is to see who gathers and what kind of message we will have to keep pushing this,” Levey said, “and to see what we might need more of.”
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