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As mountain suicides soar, Vail Health is committing $60 million to mental care in Eagle County

Posted 04/22/2019

by Jason Blevins

EDWARDS — She was a few days past her 13th birthday when she took her life in February 2018. The shockwaves of the seventh-grader’s suicide reverberated across Eagle County, with counselors, therapists and mental health advocates scrambling to prevent the dreaded cluster that too often follows teen suicides.

A year later, they are still scrambling, but with a battle plan and a much deeper war chest. 

The middle-school student was among the first of 17 suicides in Eagle County in 2018. Since 2017, 37 Eagle County residents have ended their own lives.  

“These are our neighbors, our students, our friends. Our community is facing a behavioral health crisis,” said Jill Ryan a former Eagle County commissioner who now serves as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The last few years have really shaken us up.”

Here’s how to get involved with suicide prevention, or find help

Ryan on Friday introduced Gov. Jared Polis at Edwards’ Battle Mountain High School as the valley’s galvanized behavioral health community celebrated the recent announcement that Vail Health — the nonprofit community hospital with 12 locations in Eagle and Summit counties — was investing $60 million in a mental health support network in the Vail and Eagle River valleys. 

The announcement comes as the hospital grapples with a growing wave of emergency room visits for anxiety and depression, up from 63 in 2013 to 290 last year. Surveys of students in Eagle County schools are numbing: nearly one in four seventh-graders and eighth-graders considered suicide in 2017 and 16 percent of those students had formed a suicide plan.

And perhaps most sobering: Eagle County counted 324 suicide attempts in 2018, nearly one a day. 

“Our youth is really suffering right now,” said Chris Lindley, who heads Eagle County Public Health and Environment. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, right, speaks with Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney during a discussion on mental health at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards. (Chris Dillmann, The Vail Daily)

At Friday’s meeting he asked the gathering to imagine spending as much time and money on behavioral health as they spend on physical health

“We are a community that builds its recognition around tourism and our enthusiasm around physical health … but we have seem to have forgotten our mental health and our behavioral health,” Lindley said.

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