By Annie Lindgren, written for North Forty News, a Northern Colorado Publication, as part of a Mental Health Matters series.
Not many are looking back over the first half of 2020 and thinking ‘Great year! Totally went as planned!’. Plenty of us are making the best of it and achieving goals despite challenges. But not everybody, there are a lot of people who are struggling right now. For many, 2020 has been paved with obstacles, and it is not over yet.
While we often associate grief with the loss of a loved one, grief accompanies other losses. It could be a job, a hobby, sports, school days, a frequented place, friends, pets, anything that was loved and then lost. Loss doesn’t have to mean ‘death’; it can also mean ‘change.’
In March, life as we knew it changed. It was unexpected, unplanned, and did not come with an instruction manual for how to piece it all back together. Five months later, we are still dealing with change and uncertainties. As a result, many are struggling with stress, loneliness, instability, and grief.
“Grief is complicated,” explains Scott Smith, Executive Director of Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County. “Grief is really a combination of two things, unexpected change or suffering coupled with the love of a person or the way things used to be,” says Scott. “So, in a way, grief is the ultimate expression of love.”
Change is a part of life, and while we don’t always have control over the changes that are happening, we can have control over how we cope with them. People deal in a variety of ways, some ways healthier than others, and not everyone has a well-stocked toolbox of coping skills. We need to have patience with ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Many are struggling, from all ages and demographics, and everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have.
Relationship issues, financial struggles, isolation and loneliness, and other environmental factors heightened during this pandemic are also risk factors for mental health issues and suicidal ideation. Suicide is not just an issue for people living with mental illness.
Scott says everyone should utilize therapy and mental health supports. “There is this misconception in the suicide prevention world that the vast majority of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental illness.” This can be problematic, If we frame suicide as a problem that only people with mental illness face, then we stigmatize mental health treatment and therapy for the general population. “Everyone has struggles, especially in these times, and everyone should include therapy in their wellness toolbox,” says Scott.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment keeps data on all suicides across the state. Between 2012 and 2016, 57.2% of people who died by suicide in Larimer County had a current mental health problem, while only 24.6% of those people were in therapy for it. In Colorado as a whole, 50.7% of people who died by suicide had a current mental health problem, with 30.2% in therapy.
“Larimer County has more behavioral health and therapeutic support services than the state as a whole,” reports Scott. With a wide range of services, there is support available for whatever the need. Scott also points out that formal mental health treatment isn’t the only way to take care of ourselves, “lifestyle and basic things like sleep, diet, and exercise are integral to mental health as well.”
There are many basic things we can do at home that will improve our mental health. Having a routine that includes eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, exercise, taking care of responsibilities, and socialization is important for good mental health. Set small and attainable goals and don’t expect perfection overnight. Talking to others about problems can result in solutions or a feeling of validation that one is not alone.
Take a look at your routine, and identify areas in which you can set goals for improvement. If you feel lonely, set a goal to reach out to one person a day. If sleep is a problem, commit to bedtime and setting an alarm clock. If it is healthy eating, consider taking an item off the grocery list and replacing it with something healthier. If it pertains to the consumption of substances, consider setting limits on the amount or time of day that you allow yourself to consume. If it is responsibilities, make lists and check them off so that you can see your progress. If it is exercise, start by committing to a daily walk around the block. Whatever it is, take the steps towards a healthier routine, and if you have an off day, remember that tomorrow is a new day.
So much is easier said than done, especially if you are struggling with depression and feelings of hopelessness. If none of the above is helpful, know that there are many valuable resources throughout Larimer County that can help. Below are some numbers to call.
Connections, a partnership of the Larimer County Health District and SummitStone Health Partners, has a non-crisis COVID-19 emotional support line. You can reach a Behavioral Health Specialist 7 days a week by phone or videoconferencing. This service is available at no charge, you simply have to call 970-221-1551. If you prefer to check them out online first, you can at https://www.healthdistrict.org/services/connections-adult-services
If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, here are resources to call. If the crisis is an emergency, call 911.
SummitStone Crisis Line: 970-494-4200
Colorado Crisis Services, 1-844-493-8255 (or text “TALK” to 38255)
LGBTQ+ Youth Crisis support: 1-866-488-7386 and www.thetrevorproject.org
Veteran Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 press 1 and www.veteranscrisisline.net
Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County website www.suicideprevent.org
These are challenging times for so many. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Know that you are not alone in your struggles. Stay tuned for more ‘Mental Health Matters’ topics.