A community that doesn’t avert its eyes…

Jeannie-Ritter

In the past two months, there have been several major local and national news stories about mental health that give me hope that this once taboo topic is gaining ground in the fight to be part of a national conversation.

* In its December 2013 issue, 5280 Magazine featured an outstanding article that offered a very thorough and thoughtful look at mental illness.  It didn’t gloss over the realities of daily life for the people facing mental illness, but gave a very real look at the topic.  Click here to read the full article.

* In January 2014, the celebrated New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an op/ed piece that called mental health a “systematically neglected issue.” He wrote, “ All across America and the world, families struggle with these issues, but people are more likely to cry quietly in bed than speak out. These mental health issues pose a greater risk to our well-being than, say, the Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda terrorists, yet in polite society there is still something of a code of silence around these topics.”  Click here to read the full article.

* And just last week 60 Minutes ran a major segment on the roadblocks so many parents face when trying to find care for children with mental illness.  Click here to watch the whole story. 

I’m happy to see mental health getting the attention it so rightfully deserves, but I’m also heartened because I feel a shift in our community.  In my former role as the First Lady of Colorado and  in my current position as Mental Health Ambassador for the Mental Health Center of Denver, I’ve had the privilege to give hundreds of talks about mental health, speaking everywhere from church basements to chamber lunches.

When I speak of the challenges the mentally ill face, people nod their heads in agreement on how we as a society should offer better access to care.  Most importantly, they are sharing their own personal stories of how mental illness affected their lives and the lives of those they love. Audience members used to wait for me after a speech to quietly tell me a personal story.  Now, more people are speaking up for all to hear and their bravery is being met with compassion and concern.

I’m also thrilled that more organizations want to speak about mental illness and how it affects our community.  The Mental Health Center of Denver is working with more partners than ever before.  Churches, synagogues, libraries, professional associations, schools, business chambers and other non-profits are holding workshops, conducting trainings, and trying to better understand how we as a community can help improve mental wellness. 

I am filled with joy and pride because I am watching as Denver becomes a community that no longer averts its eyes.

I applaud 5280, Nicholas Kristof and 60 Minutes for giving mental health the attention it deserves.  This attention helps ensure that mental health organizations like the Mental Health Center of Denver are being more warmly received in our work to keep the momentum going.

You may wonder what you as an individual can do to help our community stop averting its eyes. Consider taking a Mental Health First Aid class.  This is an outstanding way to better understand mental illness and how you can support friends or families living with it. Click here for more information on one of our Mental Health First Aid classes.

Together, we will break the stigma of mental illness.