By Emily Tanner

Photo: Alex Pedersen

Conversation buzzed as community members gathered at the Gunnison Arts Center on Wednesday, March 23 for a discussion around mental health. Crested Butte State of Mind, the event’s organizing entity, offers outreach, therapy scholarships, and suicide prevention training with the goal of reducing mental health stigma and spreading awareness about resources.

A table situated at the art center’s entrance was brimming with green lightbulbs as part of CB State of Mind’s second annual Green Light Project, a mental health awareness campaign which began March 27 and runs through April 30. Also on the table was a suggestion box for the nonprofit’s upcoming RTA bus-painting project, which will feature positive messaging around mental health.

By 7 p.m., attendees had gathered in the theater and the meeting was kicked off with a group activity. Those gathered— which included a mix of healthcare workers, teachers, students, laborers, and passionate community members— were invited to the stage to share how they support mental health in Gunnison. 

Prompted by the question “How can CB State of Mind better get the message out about their work?”, many pitched in with input. CB State of Mind’s primary goal is to direct outreach and resources towards existing efforts. Three primary focuses for improvement stood out during the discussion: addressing stigma, informing the workforce, and improving Hispanic outreach. 

In small communities like Gunnison, there tends to be an ‘everyone knows everything’ mindset that can impede destigmatizing efforts, as locals often prioritize personal privacy concerns over accessing the resources they need. As a tourist town, economic and housing insecurities can often compound these mental health issues. CB State of Mind wants to show people that there is safety in seeking care. 

One community suggestion was to change the language associated with finding resources. Terms such as “go get help” can imply negative connotations. Changing the phrasing of outreach can often prove more effective.

Because it is often hard to approach the idea of needing help, “Have you considered talking to someone?” and other, similar phrases often come across as less confrontational. In discussions of mental health, open and honest conversations free of judgment are the most constructive. 

An additional recommendation included utilizing CB State of Mind to put together an AA-style group to share with fellow community members about interrelated issues, including substance abuse and mental health. Meetings would be regular and help community members combat stigma by openly sharing their own struggles. Additionally, CB State of Mind already has a peer support team that offers one-on-one meetings.

Training the valley’s workforce in suicide prevention was another topic that came up repeatedly. Since many people tend to be closest to those who they work with, it often is the case that a manager or coworker is in a position to be one of the first people to take notice, and to potentially take action, should mental health issues arise with fellow employees.

Accordingly, mental health advocates in the valley can act to support those employers and managers who are often acting in supportive roles through suicide prevention training. Crested Butte State of Mind’s Executive Director, Meghan Dougherty, expressed a strong interest in getting involved with local businesses and managers to do just that.  

Training Gunnison’s workforce would not only benefit businesses internally; educating the entire community both reduces stigma and lends immediate help to those who need it. This initiative could also include training for teachers that would help them understand how certain disorders can affect their students. 

Last but not least, community members expressed a need for better Hispanic outreach. One attendee noted, “You do a great job marketing, I see your ads on Facebook all the time, but they’re not in Spanish.” 

In the valley, the LatinX population seeking help is often met with a severe lack of resources. Therapists and providers often don’t speak Spanish, and those who do are typically overbooked or out of many clients’ price ranges.

CB State of Mind expressed an interest in employing more Spanish-speaking members for their crisis team and finding the funding to diversify therapy options. Unfortunately, funding and availability are often substantial hurdles to progress.

Overall, Crested Butte State of Mind successfully drew in a diverse crowd that was ready to listen and share their opinions. Community members of all ages and walks of life are looking to create a better future for the state of Gunnison’s mental health. After identifying goals for outreach efforts, attendees came away eager to see what developments will follow.

Green lights adorn Wilders Organic Market in Gunnison