opinion | In rural western areas, “self-reliance” can take a heavy toll on mental health


Maddie Butcher is the author of Beasts of Existence: Partnerships Without Burdens and Director of the Equine Best Practices Summit.

Montezuma County, Colorado. – in “the homeA 2014 film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, three traumatized pioneers are transported East to get help from a women’s relief association. None solace In the open, we learn. Only destructive isolation and social blame.

As many today work to change the status quo, borderline mental health tragedies, like the ones depicted in the film, echo in rural western areas, where an appointment with a doctor of any kind might require a two-hour one-way drive. This is if you can find a caregiver, if you have transportation and, as is often the case with mental health, if you can overcome the stigma surrounding your care.

Rural suicide rates It increased 48 percent between 2000 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men in rural areas are 40 percent more likely than their urban counterparts to end their lives. Women are less likely to commit suicide globally more like To do so if they live with the specific challenges of the countryside, including those listed above, and high rates of poverty.

It turns out that the very elements we celebrate as rural Westerners—self-reliance, mental and physical fortitude, and often being alone—put our well-being at risk. according to Center for Disease ControlAlaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming have the seven highest suicide rates in the country.

In this part of Colorado, Joel Watts runs Integrated Optical Therapy, which employs about 40 processors for clients in five counties, covering an area the size of New Jersey. (But imagine early nineteenth century New Jersey, with fewer than 240,000 people.) About 90 percent of their clients use Medicaid.

When Watts considers challenges to mental health service delivery, he cites a lack of access and “rugged individualism” as big factors, along with some clients’ struggles with boom and bust cycles in the oil, gas and mining industries.

Mentality is the biggest hindrance. I can do it on my own. I don’t need help. Hallberg, who until recently was a director of Mancus Public Library In Mancus, Colorado.

Last summer, he was in his office when 15-year-old Dustin Ford and a young woman walked through the small brick building toward the nearby Mancus River. Minutes later, a gunshot was fired. Matt DustinThe girl survived injuries. Looks like they planned to die together.

For Mancus High School, which has about 40 students per class, this was the second suicide in nearly a year.

Alanda Martin, the school’s counsellor, is part of a team trying to help. Each year, they educate students about suicide prevention and distribute suicide screening forms. But 87 percent of kids don’t complete the forms, she said.

There is a lot of resistance here, from students and their parents. She said accessing mental health services is not something they do.

Watts maintains a separate office in Delta, Colorado, with a secret alley entrance, he said, for “people who don’t want to be found” who seek treatment.

Retaining employees, who often come from elsewhere, is another constant challenge. Being a healer here means facing external bias (if you are far away) or internal bias (if you grew up here and have some kind of history or connection with everyone). No wonder customers are discouraged by their turnover.

Help for those most at risk is increasing. In Montezuma County, public and private agencies have pooled resources to form community intervention program. Operations from one unmarked truck, two emergency medical technicians and a social worker responded to nearly 100 calls in the first two months of CIP. Most of it has to do with mental health, drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, or a personal crisis, according to Haley Leonard, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Axis Health System, one of the groups involved.

As summer visitors flock to this area, I wonder if they feel the quiet desolation that some of us who live here—no matter how fierce our love may be—should watch out for it.

In the middle of last winter’s blizzard, I thought of those women who went prairie-mad in “The Homesman.” I was struggling with chores as I slid across the side snow, as it got dark. The horses were hungry and skittish when I gave them hay, and most of it was taken away by the wind. The chickens nodded their shoulders and looked straight ahead while locking them into their coop.

The temperature dropped below zero. My thoughts bounced between concerns about livestock, livelihood, and loneliness. When the house was shaking and cracking, I thought of my intentional isolation, with miles of national forest and a few neighbors nearby. The dogs and I slept by the wood-burning stove, as we’ve been doing for weeks, to feed the fire so my little house stays above 50 degrees.

In the morning it was snowing hard across the high desert, south to New Mexico and west to Utah. On the front ramp, an ice-covered pan of lasagna sat. I didn’t learn who left her. I didn’t ask for help, but someone thought I needed it.