It’s a statistic of which people in the Gunnison Valley are keenly aware: Suicide rates nationally have risen more than 30 percent since 1999, and Rocky Mountain states are higher than average.
In Gunnison County, 2017 statistics show the rate is far above both the state and national average — 26.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people. This year, there have been nine suicide deaths in Gunnison County with more than half of them occurring north of Round Mountain.
Now, a partnership between Gunnison Valley Health (GVH) and the Center for Mental Health (CMH) is aimed at expanding services to help address the needs at the north end of the valley.
GVH, which owns the Ore Bucket Building along Hwy. 135 in Crested Butte, has offered a 700-squarefoot space to CMH. Each entity is contributing $30,000 to the renovation of the building, which is estimated at $110,000. The GVH Foundation has initiated a fundraising campaign to raise the remaining $50,000.
“GVH has definitely identified mental health support at the north end of the valley, even though behavioral health is not our forte,” said GVH Vice President of Administrative Services Wade Baker. “We thought through how we could partner with (CMH) and provide the space, so they could provide the services.”
Baker noted the location has been vacant since 2004.
CMH Assistant Regional Director Sarah Kramer said the organization has attempted to establish services in Crested Butte for several years. However, the price of a commercial property and rents have been difficult to overcome. She noted the distance someone in a mental health crisis has to travel — up to 45 minutes to Gunnison — to get help.
Once the renovation is completed — which is expected about eight weeks after the capital campaign is complete — CMH plans to offer three core services. First a part-time, or potentially full-time, therapist will be staffed. A psychiatric nurse practitioner which is already employed in Gunnison and will have some of her hours reallocated to the north-valley facility. Finally, peer services will be offered by those who have overcome a mental health or substance abuse issue and can guide others in getting needed help.
“We got grant funding from Caring For Colorado to pay for a peer,” said Kramer. “They can say, ‘Yes, I’ve been in the same position as you, and here I am on the other side, and here’s how I got there.”
Kramer said the long-term vision is for video conferencing to be made available for those who need emergency screening when the facility is not staffed.
“The first year of the program will be a pilot,” said Kramer. “We will see what is the need and what is financially stable.”
Kramer’s hope is that the new facility will address a need that has become more apparent in recent months.
“There’s the hope that we can reach those individuals and realize there’s a different path to choose,” Kramer said.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .)