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Walking Our Faith: Someone you know is struggling and needs help

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking Our Faith

If you have lived with mental illness, such as depression, it can feel isolating. When I’m depressed, I don’t want to leave my house, and I don’t want to talk to anyone about how I’m feeling, including my family.

If you’re the family member of someone living with mental illness, this isolation can make you feel helpless to reach a loved one you know needs help.

Which is why I reached out to do a Q&A with my friend Sharon Heck, who is a facilitator of Summit County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness Family Support Group. Sharon is also a parishioner at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Silverthorne and often leads the Evening Prayer Zoom group I belong to for our Summit County parish.



What is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and how did you become involved with this group?

I first became aware of this group when I had custody of my grandson, and he was having issues at school, partially due to a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, now just considered to be on the autism spectrum. A group of people were forming a NAMI chapter here in Summit County and were offering the course NAMI Basics, which is for parents of children with behavioral issues. I learned a lot from the course and met new friends with similar issues. The participants of that class formed the nucleus of our Family Support Group, and we continue to meet on a regular basis, currently twice a month.

Why have you continued to be part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness?

As I learned more about Asperger’s/autism, I suspected that both my son and my husband were also on the spectrum. My husband is diagnosed with depression, and my son deals with both depression and anxiety, plus he was recently diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Since originally participating in the Family Support Group, I have become a facilitator for the group. This is an opportunity for me to share my experiences and help other family members who are looking for support. I and other members of the support group have a wide variety of lived experiences, so we know how to empathize with others’ situations. The support group is a safe place to share what is going on with your loved ones without worrying about judgment.



How has your walk of faith been challenged by your daughter’s suicide? Did you ever feel angry with God or feel that God was distant from your pain?

I would say the opposite is true. It is through my faith that I was able to deal with her suicide. The fact that I was raising her son and had to be strong for him also helped. I know that I cried through Mass many times in the immediate aftermath of her suicide. Mass became my safe place, where it was acceptable to let down and experience my grief. It’s been more than eight years since we lost her, and in looking back, I can actually see many blessings that came out of the loss. You don’t see it right away, but I truly believe that God can take everything, no matter how bad, and turn it into a good.

What advice would you offer to parents who have children who are experiencing depression or mental health issues right now?

First, talk to them! Let them know that’s it’s OK to be feeling whatever they are feeling. If these feelings persist, reach out and find a therapist or counselor who they can talk to. You might need to talk to a therapist yourself, and they can help you figuring out what you are feeling as well as strategies for helping your child. For some people, medication is absolutely the right answer but not for all. Mental health professionals here in the county might have limited availability but keep trying. If the first therapist isn’t a good fit, it’s fine to try someone else. Reach out to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and Building Hope Summit County; they know of the resources available. Building Hope has scholarships available for a few visits to a therapist.

Check out our website, NAMIHighCountryCo.org, where you can find resources and ways to get involved, including information on our Family Support Group to which you are always welcome. We meet the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of each month. Send an email to namihictryco@gmail.com to be put on our mailing list.

How to get help

24-hour crisis help:

• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911

• Colorado Crisis Services: call 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255

Nonemergency resources:

• Building Hope Summit County: BuildingHopeSummit.org

• Building Hope Summit County peer support line: 970-485-6271, Option 2

• Colorado Crisis Services: ColoradoCrisisServices.org

• Family & Intercultural Resource Center: 970-262-3888 or SummitFIRC.org/health-wellness

• Mind Springs Health: 970-668-3478 or MindSpringsHealth.org

• National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMIHighCountryCo.org

• Safe2Tell: 877-542-7233, Safe2Tell.org or the Safe2Tell app

• Summit Community Care Clinic: 970-668-4040 or SummitClinic.org/index.php/care-services/behavioral

• Summit County Sheriff’s SMART program: Office personnel are available at 970-423-8922 every day from 8 a.m. to midnight.


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