This story and photo first appeared in the Vail Daily on January 16, 2020.
According to a recent article in the Vail Daily, more high-country residents are saying that they experience at least one week of poor mental health days per month than two years ago, and the percentage who say they needed mental health care but didn’t get it increased, as well, according to state survey data.
Despite promising trends in neighboring Summit County mental health care, including a suicide rate near a 10-year low, Eagle County’s suicide rate has skyrocketed above the state average, with 17 deaths by suicide recorded in the county in 2018 alone. That figure and a host of behavioral-health-risk-factor data show there is plenty of work left to be done in the region.
Chris Lindley from Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has shared that developing and maintaining social connections and engaging in physical activity were among the top measures the community could take to reduce behavioral and mental health issues. Mountain Recreation agrees — and is developing more programming specifically to address those two exact solutions.
Kevin Ives, our health and wellness supervisor who joined the team in July 2019, was the perfect pick for Mountain Rec’s strategic direction.
“In my previous role …with Wounded Warrior Project I got to see firsthand how beneficial physical health, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes can impact not only the physical body but also improve the mental health of an individual,” Ives said. “It was astonishing to see our physical health team was making larger mental health strides than our mental health team was making. This is a testament that a healthy mind starts with a healthy body.”
About a month after Ives’ arrival, Mike Santambrogio, the school-based mental health clinician at Red Canyon High School West, approached Mountain Rec with the idea to better connect students to each other and the community through a weight training program offered right after school at the Gypsum Recreation Center.
“As someone who has experienced the life-changing effects of taking care of your physical health on both a physical and mental level, I have been wanting to incorporate movement into the work that I do,” he said. “In working with local students and helping them to overcome the challenges that they are faced with, I knew that they too would likely benefit. We appreciate Mountain Rec for helping change the lives of our students, and for providing such an incredible experience for them to grow and experience the healing benefits of taking care of ourselves physically as well as mentally.”
Keith, a current Red Canyon High School student and active participant in the weight training program, said: “Mountain Rec gave me the ability to continue to come out of my shell, and to connect with a group that I feel I can rely on when I’m struggling, and also put myself out there to support them as well.”
Ives, Santambrogio, and their students look forward to continuing to work together next semester, and to hopefully grow this partnership to reach more students throughout our community.
These programs are not just about Red Canyon students. Mountain Rec has added more group exercise classes following the Gypsum Rec Center’s renovation and membership restructure in 2018, specifically targeting the older adult population. The number of seniors using the center, either through Silver Sneakers admissions or via membership, has doubled in just one year.”
The best part is that our older participants are staying after class several days a week to chat and enjoy refreshments at the café, ensuring an even stronger social connection.
More programs are on the way for the colder, darker winter months when social isolation is more of a risk. Ives will be offering a few “Back to Basics” style wellness workshops and programs in the new year that provide both information and social support. Starting with a nutrition workshop as well as a Fitness Foundations workshop on Sunday, Jan. 19.
Also coming up is our Mental Health First Aid Workshop in partnership with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and Eagle County on Saturday, January 18. This all-day workshop, presented in Spanish, will teach participants how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
You can learn more about winter wellness programs by visiting Kevin at the Gypsum Recreation Center and by checking out new offerings at https://mountainrec.org/program/health-wellness/
Janet Bartnik is the executive director at Mountain Recreation. Email her at JBartnik@MountainRec.org