Copper Play It Forward donation funds program for locals to navigate mental health in an age of heightened anxiety and uncertainty. 

Mental health is a topic of discussion that often flies under the radar. The stigma surrounding mental health is widely present and people are often hesitant to ask for help when they need it. In rural mountain communities like Summit County, mental health resources are not as widely available, but the demand and need for mental health assistance is growing. When people seek out help, they are often new to the system, don’t know where to begin and are intimidated to ask for help.

Family Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), a Copper Play It Forward partner, has helped to establish the Mental Health Navigation Program. The Mental Health Navigation Program is a guided system that assists people seeking mental health care by assessing the type of assistance they need then connecting them to care. Since the program is funded through grants, clients can access a guide to mental health services for free. The program began in 2017 in partnership with another Play It Forward partner, Building Hope.

The Mental Health Navigation Program has proved an asset in a close-knit ski community like Summit’s where suicide rates and mental health needs are exceedingly higher than in other parts of the country. “Some organizations have done studies on why ski resorts and resort towns in general have a higher suicide and depression rate and it can be linked to isolation, the disparity in classes and the high substance abuse rate,” said FIRC Mental Health Navigator, Casey Donohoe. “That’s kind of why this program exists. It’s meant to really break down that stigma and, let people know that it’s certainly normal to feel some of this stuff.”

Donohoe is one of three Mental Health Navigators from FIRC whose primary role is to assist clients in accessing mental health care by speaking with them, discussing their mental health history, what they are currently experiencing and helping them set goals before making appropriate referrals to care.

“We can really just be that nice therapeutic person that can then connect them to what that long-term support is going to be,” said Donohoe. The need for this program has skyrocketed in recent months as the pandemic has impacted the ski industry and Summit’s tourism driven economy. In a normal month, the program can see anywhere from 35-40 referrals. During April and June, referrals reached a peak of nearly 120 per month. Job loss, increased anxiety and financial instability have stoked the increase of program usage.

“We’ve just seen the need go up, astronomically, and specifically with the pandemic, people not knowing how to access services, not knowing how to pay for them, not knowing what therapists specialize in what and if they’re accepting clients,” said Donohoe.

FIRC has done so much to assist people in navigating new mental strains and community support is what keeps the program going and FIRC operational, especially now with increased demand for support. FIRC has seen a 25 percent increase across all of the organization’s mental health programs since the pandemic began.

Copper’s donation to the FIRC through our Play It Forward fund will allow the organization to continue to provide basic services to Summit County residents, including mental health guidance. Donations are essential to the function of FIRC and Copper is proud to partner with an organization that plays an important role in supporting our local community members.

If you are in need of mental health guidance in Summit County, you can schedule an appointment with a FIRC Mental Health Navigator on their website.

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