STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Aimed at addressing the health concerns most persistent among Yampa Valley residents, the ninth annual Wellness Conference on Friday, Nov. 1, was built around feedback from the community.
One of the surprising things out of the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, said Health Partnership Executive Director Stephanie Monahan, was how many people who said they didn’t consider themselves to be healthy.
For Colorado, which touts itself as one of — if not the — healthiest state in the nation, it was a very concerning finding, she said.
Covering a wide range of topics from domestic violence prevention and substance abuse disorder to secondary trauma and collective impact, the goal is to give people the tools to improve their own health and that of others in ways beyond going to the doctor for an annual physical, Monahan said.
The conference will look at the alternative factors which contribute to health and well being, Monahan said. And, “how consumers can be engaged in solutions for really improving overall health in our community.”
With a focus on mental health, Monahan hopes for the conversation to move more toward finding ways to support the maintenance of positive mental health, rather than a focus on mental illness.
Everyone has mental health, she points out, and there are things everyone can do to improve their mental health.
The star of the day-long event is keynote speaker Frank King.
Known as the “Mental Health Comedian,” King is brutally honest about his history — and daily battles — with depression and suicidal ideation.
King spent 20 years writing for the Tonight Show, but it wasn’t until he was 52 that he “came out” as depressed and suicidal.
He then dived into a career in speaking and identifying suicide and depression as something that isn’t talked about — but needs to be.
Along with his five TEDx Talks, King travels across the country giving speeches for training, motivation and prevention.
He shares stories of his grandmother’s and great aunt’s suicides. He talks about the multiple instances in his own life when he was seriously close to taking his own life. He talks about battling his “dark passenger,” diagnosed with “chronic suicidality” and for whom “suicide is always on the menu,” whether solving problems large and small.
And King does it in a way that is at times funny, often dark, but always going a long way to reduce stigma and let people know they are not alone.
He talks about high profile suicides, like Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and how it can be hard for normal people to understand how celebrities, seemingly with so much, can feel such deep despair.
It’s like waking up each day to a rock that must be rolled up a hill every day, King said. Sometimes, the rock is small, and the hill gradual, and sometimes, the rock is unbearably heavy and the hill, a mountain.
Using the tagline “A matter of laugh or death,” King describes his sense of humor as his best way to combat the darkness — the darker the humor, the more therapeutic.
Monahan said King should bring some levity to the program, as well as showcase how someone like King can use “his lifelong relationship with depression” that has allowed him to go down this path and find a creative outlet.
With substance abuse disorder also topping the list of an area in need of increased attention and resources, Monahan described making information available across the whole continuum of care, from prevention to treatment, support and recovery.
Another speaker, Jodi Hardin, is the co-executive director of The Civic Canopy, which “works to connect people seeking change in their communities with tools for lasting impact.”
Hardin will present strategies for creating effective partnerships that can be sustained in the long term, Monahan said.
The conference also provides resources for people who work in caregiving to make sure they are taking care of themselves — which Monahan notes allows those caregivers to be of better service to the rest of the community.
The day ends with breakout sessions on the role of nutrition, the mind body connection and self-defense and restorative yoga classes.
The conference is put together by the Health Partnership, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide — or REPS — Advocates of Routt County and Mind Springs Health.
The main sponsor is the Sarah Craig Scheckman Family Foundation, alongside about a dozen other community sponsors.