Colorado West Mental Health offers group for bipolar/depression

Wesley Fisher was a 12-year-old growing up near the Utah border in Evanston, Wyo., when he developed depression.

With fewer than 13,000 residents in his town and the number of depressed people there a secret to him, he didn’t know who to talk to, so he kept his depression to himself.

Six months ago, he had what he calls his “most epic crisis to date” and ended up at Colorado West Mental Health. There, he met people like him and started to see a new way to live.

“We’re all supporting each other, saying ‘This is what worked for me, how about you try this?’ It’s just wonderful,” Fisher said.

The importance of peer support in his recovery led Fisher to become the vice president of the local chapter of the national Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, a peer-led discussion and support group for people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or depression and their friends and family members. The group will host its first meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the north lobby at Colorado West and again every fourth Monday of the month at the same time and in the same place.

Janice Curtis, coordinator of the office of family and member affairs at Colorado West, said groups for people who are depressed or bipolar are the most-requested groups at the facility. There is one depression/bipolar group now at Colorado West but it meets at 
1 p.m. on Tuesdays, which can be hard for people with daytime work schedules. Plus, it is not affiliated with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which can offer local chapters a wealth of research and can forward referrals from its Chicago headquarters to local groups.

The alliance has one Western Slope chapter already, but it’s in the Delta-Montrose area. Anyone interested in joining the chapter in that area, DBSA Pinyon Ridge, can email Sam Kendrick at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The Grand Junction chapter is training peer leaders now to lead smaller groups that will splinter off from the main group for the second half of meetings. The first group will be for teenagers. Groups for families; lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people; and people age 50 or older are in the works.

The teen group is forming first, Curtis said, because of a lack of peer-led mental health groups for adolescents in the Grand Valley.

“We want to have a group for adolescents led by adolescents,” she said. “Teens might go to a teacher or a counselor (with mental health concerns) but they’re more apt to go to a peer. But the peer doesn’t know what to do.”

Sterling Gray, a senior at R-5 High School who is training to be a peer leader for a teen group branch, said he’s excited to help other people his age.

“It just seems like a worthwhile thing because a lot of teens are depressed,” he said.

Grand Junction DBSA President Dagger Miles hopes the group will help reduce the stigma of mental health for teens and all age groups. Miles said he grew up in foster care and didn’t know who to approach when he struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress, even as an adult.

“This isn’t something that should be quiet,” he said of the mental health discussion. “This is one of the things we’re going to do as a collective to bring support and to bring the suicide rate down.”

Mesa County’s suicide rate was 21.2 suicides per 100,000 residents in 2009, almost double the U.S. rate of 11.1 per 100,000 residents that year, according to the Mesa County Coroner’s Office. At 3.5 percent, the county was in the top third for residents diagnosed with major depression among Colorado counties in 2000, according to a 2002 report by The Colorado Trust. It’s a connection Cynthia Hartman, a peer specialist at Colorado West, can’t help but believe is more than a coincidence. That’s why she and others in recovery are dedicated to making the new support groups and the connections they forge between peers a success.

“When I had my melt-down, I had no idea who to reach out to. I didn’t know what to do after I left the hospital,” Hartman said. “If it weren’t for this group I never would have been able to recover.”

Go to to learn about the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance or go to to view a calendar of Colorado West peer support classes, all of which are free.


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