Building Hope Summit County initiative renews mental-health efforts in Year 2
A year has passed since a local mental health awareness and resource enhancement campaign began in earnest, and now with a more defined action plan the grassroots organization has sights set on making Summit County a focal point for the state’s renewed efforts to get people the care they need.
The Building Hope initiative launched about six months after longtime Breckenridge resident and philanthropist Patti Casey took her own life on Jan. 24, 2016, just five days before her 63rd birthday. Her family subsequently started a fund dedicated in her name with area nonprofit The Summit Foundation in the pursuit of ending stigma around depression and suicide.
Following months of community meetings, collaboration with more than 25 partner organizations and the hiring of a program manager — Casey’s daughter Betsy — Building Hope is looking to make measurable gains in the realm of behavioral health. The first step is bringing the discussion families and individuals often hide behind closed doors out into the light.
“At my mom’s service people kept saying, ‘We had no idea,’ and we said, ‘Yeah we know,’” said Betsy Casey. “She never talked about it, she was so ashamed. So my goal is to bring about this idea that mental health is medical health, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Every single person experiences mental health every day.”
Betsy, who is a native of Summit County, received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University of Denver and is presently working toward a master’s in consciousness studies from the accredited Holmes Institute. The latter coursework is a blend of psychology, philosophy, spirituality, education and world religions that aligns with her desire to help develop a program with real, on-the-ground impact in the rural mountain community.
“Summit County is my home,” said Betsy, who now lives in Denver but drives up to her office at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center for the new position three days a week. “I don’t want to see other people struggle with things I felt I struggled with growing up there, and that my mom struggled with. It was challenging to find services there back then, and I definitely remember a pervasive stigma in town where people don’t talk about mental health — whether it was because you were afraid everyone will know your business or you didn’t want to upset the perfect playground environment, perfect town façade.”
New Office, Refined Vision
Until recently when FIRC took over responsibility for housing the Building Hope’s chief position from the county government, the organization was doing most of its work behind the scenes. In the last month and a half, however, the initiative has settled on eight detailed priorities to reach four overarching goals by next summer.
Beyond a messaging push to reduce negative impressions of individuals seeking help, the aim is to increase education surrounding mental health in the public sphere, to expand the access to care and do that through improving interagency coordination. Those objectives fit into nice, bite-sized portions, but are easier said than done in the complex behavioral-health system and will act as the ongoing mission throughout the program’s life.
Strides are already being made, though, even if the work will never be complete. The formal hiring and placing of Betsy is producing early results. Following a lengthy interview process, her prior credentials as a development coordinator at a Denver-based sobriety community agency, Phoenix Multisport, to create a supportive environment for those dealing with substance-abuse issues, and then as an intake coordinator at the University of Colorado Hospital’s Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation, stood out.
“We have seen a real increase in our clients and their sort of struggles with their behavioral and mental health, and as an organization we needed to do more to support their needs in those areas,” said Tamara Drangstveit, FIRC’s executive director. “Having Betsy here helps us in making those decisions and also gives us more expertise on the other strategies to engage for whatever other programs FIRC needs to support our clients.”
Just the Start
Working with a consultant on patient experience and discovering the barriers to care within the county, as well as local Gini Bradley to establish a strategic plan and head fundraising, the group has its marching orders into 2018. For example, specific programming for the Latino community — a population segment with its own unique set of obstacles concerning mental health — is a target, as is general connectedness events for the rest of Summit’s residents.
So far, free meet-ups on mindfulness meditation, a family art night and an evening at the symphony have been well-attended hits. A yoga and music event for all at the Riverwalk Center (150 W. Adams Ave.) in Breckenridge from 5:30-7 p.m. on July 27 is up next.
It’s not all just gatherings and activities. Trainings on suicide geared toward local businesses to educate employees on signs of crisis and initiating lunches with area medical clinics to ensure they’re up on mental health resources that exist in the community to better integrate care are also high on the list of ambitions.
Establishing a go-to source for information through an organization website, including links, tools for screening and project mapping providers is also underway. Building Hope, which offers financial assistance in the form of stopgap, six-session therapy scholarships as well, has already been able to connect eight individuals with the service in only the first month or so of availability.
Hundreds of locals have attended Building Hope functions since the program began keeping tally this past December, all with the design of helping countless members of the community into the future.
“It’s really about connecting people to the right resources,” said Betsy Casey. “We want to create a more open dialogue and access to service, and reduce barriers so people can approach mental health care just like they’d go to their primary care physician. It’s an incredible mission and incredible work, and there’s a lot to be done. But we are moving very rapidly.”
To learn more about the Building Hope Summit County initiative, or information about upcoming events, visit: BuildingHopeSummit.org
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