Reaching Out

Matt Kotlan

7 Minutes

Have you ever had strep throat, mono, or any nasty infection that takes you down for a good while? Luckily, medicine has come far enough that you could be feeling better in a couple of days. So, if you think you might be feeling the symptoms of strep, what is the first thing you do? Most of us would say “go to the doctor!” Our doctor would work to diagnose us, and probably recommend hot soups and plenty of liquids.

For the most part, we are in tune with how our body feels and can notice when things are a little ‘off’. We understand the importance of taking care of our physical health, and we know just where to go when we need to do that; to the doctor. This way, we can take a few days off, come back to full health, and be ready to continue the work week. So, what about when we need to take care of our mental health? Fortunately, there’s help on that side of healthcare right here in Colorado Springs, and lots of it. From doctors, therapists, counselors and even peer support groups, there are plenty of mental health services out there for us to take advantage of.

Regardless if you’re taking on a large work-load at your job, you’ve just dealt with a tragedy that has affected you negatively, or you’re struggling with a more general sadness or burnout, these issues with our mental health largely go unchecked. We think if we can focus on something else, or redirect our attention, we can feel better. While there may be temporary relief, shoving these feelings deep down into darkness doesn’t allow ourselves to healthily explore what is making us feel this way in the first place, it only compounds the issue. It’s like having strep, realizing you have it, and then burying yourself in blankets and the newest HBO show, hoping it will just go away with ease. 

Tending to our mental health isn’t exactly easy. For the most part, we’ve never been taught what to do if we’re feeling down. It’s important to have a rest day and take care of our brains. That mental break can feel fantastic and rejuvenating, but that feeling doesn’t last too long. It ultimately doesn’t lead us towards a solution.

“Do something tangible.” says Cass Walton, the Executive Director of the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership (PPSPP). “Unfortunately, we as humans spend a lot of time feeling scared and intimidated, and we will find every excuse to not take action," she continued, “You have to create your own experience and just decide, ‘do I want help or not?’, and the answer is: ‘yes, you do’, and it’s available.” 

Reaching out to a professional for help can be the most difficult part. We give ourselves this great feeling of helplessness, and ultimately decide that there isn’t someone out there to help us. Maybe you had a bad experience with your last therapist, or find it too difficult or expensive to get one yourself. But, we can’t let our bad experiences dictate how we move forward with our life. If you have a bad burger at McDonalds, it probably doesn’t mean you’ll never go there again.

Incredibly, there are a host of options for you if you do need to venture out and try a new McDonalds, over 18 in our city alone. The same goes for mental health services in Colorado Springs, but with even more than you could count on your fingers and toes. 

Cass, who volunteered for several years at PPSPP before becoming their Executive Director, has put in an enormous effort to grow and maintain the web of organizations that provide low-cost or free mental health services. Cass and PPSPP host free trainings for any businesses or organizations to educate them and their employees about suicide, its warning signs, and how to support someone who may be struggling. They also connect patients to Licensed Professional Counselors throughout the state, and focus on finding the best possible solution to help those struggling with mental health. They work closely with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI helps individuals with every aspect of life, whether that’s finding a job, working on your relationships, or buying a house. They’re partnered with Home Front Military Network and Next Chapter, who help veterans navigate their mental health. “There’s not just one community resource available…” Cass explains. “You could stop at any of our doors and say ‘I just need help and I don’t know what to do’, and we’re all going to say ‘Tell me your story…we’ll connect you.”

The Colorado Springs branch of NAMI echoes that sentiment. “Mental health can feel really isolating”, Kirk Woundy shared, “and it’s a gift to people to be able to access that kind of support [that NAMI provides].” Kirk is a Director of Strategy and Operations at NAMI in the Springs, and provided some great in depth conversation about mental health and their services. 

If you’ve ever tried to reach out to a new doctor or find a new prescription because your insurance doesn’t cover it, you know it can become confusing and overwhelming almost immediately. The same can be true with mental healthcare. NAMI is there to help you navigate anything and everything in your path, answer your questions and ultimately get you into a better mental mindset. “I just think it’s really important for people to know that they can call one number…explain their situation, and have someone on the other line say ‘we know where to find you resources and support.”, Kirk explained, “The biggest piece of this is not wanting people to feel alone…When you’re struggling with something internally and don’t have an outlet to talk it through, it can feel pretty scary.” 

NAMI, along with help from Serenity Recovery Connection, have begun holding 1-on-1 peer support sessions, where a volunteer who has experienced recovery meets with an individual still recovering to help guide them in the right direction. “When it comes to that peer connection and making sure that people can find someone who has been through those experiences and can talk knowledgeably about them, we know there are organizations locally that live in that space, and that’s where we want to send people.”, Kirk concluded.

When it comes down to it, it’s clear that there are plenty of people and organizations in Colorado Springs that are available for us to utilize when we’re struggling with our mental health.

Sometimes though, the motivation just isn’t there to make that phone call and reach out for help. We want to acknowledge our issues and work to feel better, but find ourselves stuck, almost immobilized by the stress and anxiety. What can we actually do to help ourselves when we’re stuck in a rut? 

“It’s always like…go back to the basics. How are you sleeping? How are you eating? What’s your level of physical activity? And focus on those things first.”, Cass from PPSPP explains, “Eat food…nourish yourself”. 

Personally, basic care tasks are some of the first things to go. It’s easy to forget or even neglect eating all together if I’m having a tough day or week. “We like to wallow in our own unhealthy habits…we feel like it’s making us feel better. It’s meeting some sort of need, but not the primary one that we need it to.” Cass continued. 

If we watch how we are functioning on a daily basis, and notice what’s working and not working for us, we can step in the right direction. Cass suggests looking at one basic function, evaluating it, and deciding, “What’s one thing I can do today that’s different than I did yesterday?” Slowly, we can start to understand ourselves a bit better, and find the motivation to work on our daily functions to improve our feelings. 

Taking basic care of ourselves is just the tip of the mental health iceberg. There are so many resources and tools that we can access right now, and so many people willing to help, but nothing will improve until we take action. It’s easy to get lost in the confusing and overwhelming world of healthcare, and lose all sight of what it is we’re trying to accomplish. It’s even easier to never look into it, accept the issues we’re dealing with and never do anything about them. Neither of those choices get us any closer to feeling healthier and living a better life, which is ultimately what we really want. Instead, we should step away from our normal window of function, and try something different. In the words of Cass Walton: Do. Something. Tangible. Change it up. Take a nap today, or eat a different breakfast, or just eat breakfast at all. 

And when you’re ready, you can reach out to one of the resources like NAMI or Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, and they will assist you in finding the help you really need, free of cost to you.

List of Low to No-Cost Services in Colorado Springs: 

Mental Health Services

NAMI - (719) 473-8477 

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership - (719) 573-7447

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) - (719) 477-1515

Suicide & Crisis Lifeline - 988

Addiction Recovery Services

Serenity Recovery Connection - (719) 465-2295

Face It Together - (720) 699-9268

Embark/PCA Addiction Center - (800) 604-8978

Veteran/Military Mental Health Services

Homefront Military Network - (719) 577-7417

Next Chapter - (719) 309-4714

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