With many years of experience as a nurse in public health, Amanda Merriman recalls an experience that remains formative to her professional journey in the health industry. While working a shift at a hospital during nursing school she was matched with a patient who had survived a suicide attempt. She remembers feeling unprepared, with minimal guidance in her training on how to approach the situation, what to say, and how to help. “There is a lot of stigma around suicide. Humans don’t know what to say in that situation. I wanted to do better for my patients in the future.”
Sadly, Amanda- Building Hope’s Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator- had personal experience when dealing with a loss by suicide, losing her biological father in 2000. She recalls many people around her expressing the outcome as inevitable, and that nothing could have been done to help her father. These expressions didn’t sit well with Amanda, and have contributed to her advocacy for equitable mental health services for everyone. The challenge of losing her father was a silver lining, bringing her closer to her family while motivating her to focus on the stigma of mental health and speaking freely about these issues for many years to come.
Amanda was born in Ohio and moved to Colorado in 1992. The allure of the outdoors and active lifestyle was strong for Amanda and her family. They enjoyed coming to the mountains on the weekends, eventually fully committing to the Summit County lifestyle in 2016 after her husband accepted a job with Copper Mountain. While working as a nurse for Public Health, she was offered an opportunity to focus on a passion project with personal ties and interests. She became involved in the Suicide Prevention Action Team (SPAT), which also led to her new position with Building Hope as the Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator.
“Our work with Building Hope IS public-health related. We need to normalize the difficulty of connecting with friends in a new community, especially as adults,” Amanda says. “Community connections are imperative to your mental health. People may be hesitant to reach out or take advantage of community resources but they are here for you – don’t be shy!”
In 2019 Amanda experienced another unimaginable challenge. Her 16-year-old son was experiencing challenges in his mental health, and fortunately survived a serious suicide attempt. She recollects how grateful she was for and how impactful the mental health navigators at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) were for her family at this time. As a mother of 3 (her son and 2 daughters), she admits that she was typically a resourceful and informed person, but at this time she accepted the help of support and resources that were provided to her. “It’s a good reminder to parents trying to manage a crisis while caring for other kids to accept help, and also take care of yourself.”
When looking back at her journey and forward to the future of mental health services in Summit County, Amanda sees an increasing need for higher acuity services, especially for adolescents who are struggling. She remembers the constant trips to Denver with her son after his discharge from the hospital and inpatient services. While progress was being made in his healing, there was still a lot to do on a daily basis with group and individual therapies, and outpatient services are currently unavailable in Summit County for this time of crisis. “People have a misconception that a healing path is linear – but it’s actually a journey of ups and downs. Hospitals play an important function of keeping you safe in a crisis, but the real healing begins when you start finding your new reality.”
Amanda looks forward to this becoming an option for Summit County in the future with Mile High Behavioral Health’s Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) for Adolescents. Starting at the end of January, the EOP will include two meetings weekly, and individual sessions with an individual therapist. For clients needing a third weekly meeting, they have the option to to join an art therapy session with Mile High Behavioral Health, or Wild Youth Passages. Post hospitalization for adolescents in crisis, it is highly beneficial and recommended to have therapy 2-3 times a week. Previously patients would need to travel outside of Summit County or access via telehealth.
In an ideal world she also foresees more therapist providers and availability for the community, especially those offering bilingual services. She hopes that we are making improvements in stigma reduction, with more willingness to speak freely about the topic, and more people reaching out for therapy resources. “It’s hard to live in a resort community with everyone around you on vacation. Substance use is higher here and our adolescents aren’t always observing healthy behaviors.”
Amanda realizes that mental health concerns are not uncommon and affect people from all different cultures and backgrounds. According to save.org, in a given year between 20-25% of Americans aged 18 years and older experience depression. However, only half those impacted by major depression receive care. Research shows a strong link between suicide and depression. “But there is absolutely hope. We know that treatment through therapy and/or medications is effective for the vast majority of people who seek care. I wholeheartedly believe that through increased access to mental health services, community connections, and a willingness to talk openly about mental health, our community can thrive.”
There are many options and resources available for the community including the Building Hope free community connectedness events, therapy scholarship programs, and mental health navigation from both FIRC and Building Hope. If you are new to the area, the Summit Daily News is another great option for connecting with community events.
In her own daily mental-health practices, Amanda is a firm believer in movement. For her this looks like running, getting outside and enjoying everything that Summit County offers. “It’s a good reminder why we work so hard to live here and experience why people travel from all over to visit.” She is passionate about sunshine, laughing, and time with friends, family, her labradoodle, and watching her son follow his dreams and thrive at CU Denver.
Daily meditation and journaling is also vital to her personal wellness. When looking for suggestions in your own mental-health practices, she suggests not waiting for motivation. “Make these practices a habit and part of your routine. There is value in ritual, which will naturally create motivation. Sometimes the act of journaling can be an obstacle or feel overwhelming, but starting the day with intentions and gratefulness can feel more accessible and lead to centering.”
Although it is impossible to turn back time or change the outcomes of what Amanda has endured in her life, she can’t help but think the tragedy of her father’s outcome could have been different with a proper mental-health diagnosis, and available resources for treatment and addressing any contributing factors. Moving forward she is devoted to doing better for her family, herself, and all members of Summit County, who will all benefit from her caring, understanding, and personable care.
“I love community health. I get to contribute and help prevent bad health outcomes in a small community and make a difference in Summit County.”