Jeannie Ritter eager to discuss mental health issues with public in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Jeannie Ritter eager to discuss mental health issues with public in Steamboat

Alexis DeLaCruz

— Jeannie Ritter, Colorado’s first lady, has made it a priority to understand the challenges Coloradans face with mental health issues.

With a goal of improving Colorado’s mental health care system, Ritter will spend the next few days touring the state to meet with elected officials, mental health providers and the public.

Ritter’s visit to Northwest Colorado early next week will set a precedent, said Tom Gangel, director of Steamboat Mental Health.

“This is good news,” Gangel said Friday. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a public official has come to Northwest Colorado specifically seeking information about mental health issues with the intent to change how services are delivered.”

Ritter is scheduled to visit with area mental health providers Tuesday morning at Yampa Valley Medical Center. A public meeting with local officials and interested residents is at 11:30 a.m. at the Routt County Courthouse Annex. Anyone interested in talking to Ritter about mental health issues is encouraged to attend.

“It’s a rare opportunity to get the ear of a public official who wants to hear from us and isn’t necessarily telling us what to do,” Gangel said.

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Laura K. Chapin, a spokeswoman for Ritter, said the first lady’s intent is solely to gather information.

“She’s on a mission to remove the stigma associated with people seeking mental health care,” Chapin said. Ritter “is hoping to encourage people to talk about what their needs are without feeling fear of being recognized or being embarrassed.”

Chapin said Ritter feels strongly about treating mental health issues like any other medical problem. Ritter has a sister who is schizophrenic.

“But this isn’t just about Jeannie Ritter,” Chapin said. “It’s about recognizing that Colorado has the seventh highest suicide rate in the nation and working on that.”

Ritter’s trip to Northwest Colorado comes on the heels of a similar trip to Southeast Colorado earlier this month. After meeting with officials in Steamboat, Ritter is scheduled to meet with Moffat County officials Tuesday afternoon and officials in Meeker on Wednesday.

If you go

What: Public meeting with Colorado first lady Jeannie Ritter about mental health issues

When: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Routt County Courthouse Annex, 136 Sixth St.