Yampa Valley Wellness Conference is Saturday in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Wellness Conference is Saturday in Steamboat

Michael Schrantz

— With the first trace of snow on Mount Werner, fall colors still hanging on the trees and the cool promise of winter in the air, Steamboat Springs is looking like a pretty nice place to live in.

But the mountain resort perks that residents and visitors cherish about the Yampa Valley are mixed with risk factors shown to be associated with increased rates of suicide.

A paper titled "Altitude, Gun Ownership, Rural Areas, and Suicide" published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2011 researched the ties between these risk factors and found a correlation between "age-adjusted suicide rate and county elevation in the United States."

One of the authors of the paper, Dr. Perry Renshaw, will be at Saturday's Yampa Valley Wellness Conference in Steamboat to discuss his work on altitude and mood disorders. Renshaw is among three well-known featured speakers the conference is bringing to Steamboat in an effort to educate the public about mental health.

"We're trying to reach out and educate," said Ronna Autrey, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and one of the organizers of the conference. "The more you know, the more we might be able to stop this."

And while Renshaw's research examines suicide rates and Kevin Hines will speak about his own suicide attempt jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, the conference is for a wider audience than those who find themselves at the edge.

Recommended Stories For You

"This is not a suicide conference," Autrey said. "This is about mental wellness."

Autrey said the conference’s organizing committee incorporated feedback from surveys about last year's conference when planning Saturday's event.

Eating disorders was a topic requested by multiple people, Autrey said. There also will be panels on instilling resiliency in children and non-pharmacological treatment of depression and anxiety. Dr. Harry L. Haroutunian will give a featured luncheon talk on prescription drug abuse.

David Reed, a licensed clinical social worker, and Lisa Wilkinson, a nurse practitioner, will give a presentation on the teenage brain. Reed said they are going to talk about how experience shapes the brain from the very beginning. He said the goal was to "make a presentation that will hopefully engage professionals, parents and interested individuals."

"You don't have to have a neuroscience degree," Reed said. It's for "parents who are just wanting to learn more about how the brain affects behavior."

"The conference is designed to give any member of the community some ideas to utilize the current psychology of wellness," said Tom Gangel, regional director of Colorado West Regional Mental Health Inc. and another organizer of the conference.

Gangel said those involved with the conference want the community to know mental illness is "a physiological disease like any other physiological disease."

"We compare it to a broken leg," he said. "We want people to know that it's OK and it's safe" to seek treatment.

"I think we have a nice mix of nationally known speakers and local community members who have great expertise and have been treating people for years," Gangel said.

All members of the community are invited to RSVP and attend the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. About 170 people were signed up by midweek, and available spaces were filling up. Attendance is free. Those interested can visit http://www.blacktie-colorado.com to RSVP.

And what about those on the fence and hesitant to attend because of the associations with mental illness?

"We hope the conference helps to break down the barriers of stigma," Gangel said.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

Go back to article