There is a dark side to paradise. Champagne powder days, endless sunshine, world class hiking with pristine views and unbeatable après aren’t the only things that make up Colorado’s Western Slope communities. However, one thing you won’t see on any postcard is, “Hello, from the Suicide Belt of America.”

The Rocky Mountain states have earned this morbid moniker because of the myriad of risk factors for suicide that plague the region. Resort towns are a perfect storm for suicide risk – high economic inequality, seasonal work that leaves people without insurance, a culture that is less likely to seek help from a medical professional, a strong drinking culture and a severe lack of funding for mental health providers.

Colorado’s suicide rate is 19.1 individuals per 100,000, 43% higher than the national average of 13.4 per 100,000 individuals.

Mark, a resident of a mountain resort community served by Mind Springs Health, didn’t see a way out of his situation. He came to Colorado to enjoy the lifestyle, but unable to afford even a place to live he has drifted in and out of homelessness as seasonal work comes and goes, staying with friends and intermittently living in his car. His mid-twenties brought grand adventures on the rivers, the mountains and the canyons of the west, and also great tribulation. After losing two jobs and a breakup with his girlfriend, he was drinking more than he knew he should. It didn’t take long before he got a DUI. Fortunately, he was sent to counseling through a court diversion program, a far better option than jail.

When he was first diagnosed with bipolar, he felt no sense of relief. “I’m crazy,” was the first thing that entered his mind. But Mark stayed engaged with care at Mind Springs Health. He was connected to a Peer, an employee who has lived experience with mental health or a substance abuse disorder and is now in recovery. Mark’s peer was named Adrian. In Adrian, Mark saw himself, or rather it was like looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of his future self.

For a brief moment it pulled him out of the tornado of hopelessness and self-loathing that clouded his vision. He could plainly see that Adrian was not ‘crazy’, so he himself must not be crazy. He came to the realization that these false precepts of insanity do nothing more than fan the flames of stigma surrounding mental health. Mark was beginning to understand that bipolar did not have to be his identity, but he did need to learn how to manage it and continue living.

Mark is on his way to recovery. He is able to access any member of his care team on his own schedule through Mind Spring’s innovative, award winning Recovery Accelerator Program. He stays connected to Adrian, who provides continual guidance. He is working with a psychiatrist to manage his medication and works with a therapist to understand how not to just cope with bipolar, but how to thrive.

We need you to be a part of the mission to rebuild lives and inspire hope through exceptional mental health and substance use treatment. Your investment in Mind Springs Health saves lives.

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