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If you are local to Eagle County, you have probably heard about the recent suicide of a young high schooler. This tragedy has deeply affected our community and it has us all thinking, grieving, and speculating. And unfortunately, there are no answers. We are only left with the knowledge that this child was suffering greatly.

We also know that he was not the only one. Among our youth suicide rates have sharply increased in the past 10 years. Nearly 20% of adolescents and young adults are affected by depression. While many people with depression will never attempt suicide, over 50% of people who die by suicide have no known mental health condition.

So how are we supposed to know who to help? There are some common risk factors for suicide among youth:

  • Mental Illness
  • Family Discord
  • Prior Suicide Attempts
  • Substance Abuse (personal or familial)
  • Relationship Problems
  • Discipline or Legal Issues
  • Access to Firearms
  • Male
  • History of Abuse
  • Bullying
  • Chronic Medical Issues
  • History of Loss

Let’s all do our best to be aware of those around us. Let’s all do our best to keep up with the people we know who do have these risk factors. Ask questions. Be direct. Be willing to listen.

Let’s also be aware that mental wellness is not simply an absence of any of the above risk factors. Depression is not a lack of strength, lack of will, or weakness in the mind. It is not a serotonin deficiency or other brain chemicals gone awry.

Our mental and physical health is a product of our exposure to all of the things that we have ever experienced in our environment from the time we were in utero to our present. This is called our exposome. While we may be genetically more inclined to experience certain diseases, including depression, we will not develop said diseases without the input of our environment and our exposome.

Our exposome includes our exposure to and experiences with any and all of the above risk factors, and also toxins, infections, nutrition, trauma, love, attachment, social interactions, upbringing, drugs, physical activity, sleep, safety, hygiene, thoughts, hormones, stress, injury, and so on.

Our exposome impacts all aspects of who we are. Our exposome contributes to all diseases, including those that we call mental illnesses. Certain aspects of our exposome are out of our control while others we can work to improve.

Crisis lines and therapy help us with certain aspects of our exposomes. They teach us coping skills, assist in improving our relationships with ourselves and others, help us to overcome our traumas and give us skills to regulate our fragile nervous systems. These are essential tools for us to improve our health and to heal.

We cannot ignore, as we do, all of the other things that contribute to disease. It is negligent to ignore the many other issues that can contribute to depression. We must assess for and address infections, inflammation, toxicity, sex and stress hormones, blood sugar, food intolerances, and nutrient deficiencies. We must also treat the body to treat mental illnesses. Our brains are, in fact, part of our bodies.

You can see why, when including all of these factors that make up who you are, how you feel, and how you navigate your thoughts and interactions, getting truly healthy, including mentally healthy, is hard work.

It takes a team of knowledgeable, holistic practitioners and a dedicated supportive social network. Health does not occur in a vacuum. We need each other. We need knowledge and tools and help.

You can help by connecting someone you are worried about to a reliable resource; school counselor, a therapist, a Naturopathic Doctor, and a trusted doctor. You can ask direct questions, listen without judgment, practice loving kindness (to others AND to ourselves), and recognize that people, those we know very well and those we hardly know at all, are often suffering.

We can all do all the hard work together. We are all better together.

Holistic mental health

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