This nonprofit and mountain town is working together to battle suicide among its youth.
Meet a Colorado native who said "no," a mountain town that gets it, and a nonprofit that refuses to ignore that the leading cause of death in youth in Colorado is suicide.
Heather Aberg, a native of Evergreen, Colorado, is the Executive Director of Resilience1220 (2019), a nonprofit that provides free, confidential individual and group counseling for young people 12-20 years old in the Colorado mountain communities. Resilience1220 provides 10 free therapy sessions for youth and 3 free parent sessions, over six different groups, and referrals to Jefferson Mental Health. The organization averages about 150 visits per month and has 31 contract therapists. During COVID, they increased from 90 visits to 160 visits per month.
OCN: What's the meaning of your name, Resilience 1220?
ABERG: "Resilience" indicates that it's not crisis intervention. Let's build these coping strategies early, let's teach these kids what do you do when you've had your first heartbreak? How do you confront someone because nobody likes confrontation? How do you break up with someone? What is domestic violence and what is abuse?
"1220" because we see youth ages 12 to 20.
How do mental health and resources differ from a mountain town to an urban area?
There's two primary reasons: one is stigma and there's such stigma. Blackhawk, Central City, Georgetown, no judgment, tend to be more conservative communities. So therapy—it's real easy to say I can't afford therapy.
So the other piece is transportation, preCOVID before we knew you could do therapy on Zoom. How do you get to a therapy appointment if your provider is Denver Health? If I'm a kid and my parents are driving from work and then I ask them to get me to Denver Health—forget it. A lot of our clients have Kaiser and we don't have a Kaiser in Evergreen. Through COVID, a lot of my therapist friends who take UHC and Anthem Blue Cross insurance are full. Everyone is pretty full now.
What's the stigma around mental health and therapy?
I've noticed interesting things in offering free therapy: some people don't want it. This is related to stigma. Mental health visits in their records for the Air Force, the military; they don't want a diagnosis. They don't want it to be shown that they've seen a therapist. It's this old thinking of therapy: if you go to therapy you're crazy, you're broken, and how does that reflect on us as a family or a set of parents?
What was the genesis of Resilience1220?
There was a suicide off of a bridge in Bergen Park of a young man at Evergreen high school. From the outside, [he] had it all; really well-liked kid. I've worked with suicidal clients for years and suicide survivors whether they were attempters but primarily people who've lost a loved one to suicide. That's something I've done for almost 20 years and I just thought "no, no, no," and at the time I had three teenagers and all their friends were talking about all the stressors of being an adolescent. So then, that really kicked off these meetings, and then there was another suicide, unfortunately. And yet, a third teenage boy, three boys all within in a span of 2.5 years. Just wonderful boys. All three were really sensitive. So, I started the LGBTQ group before I started Resilience about four years ago because I thought this is, statistically speaking, one of the highest risk populations astonishingly.
What are the suicide numbers within the LGBTQ community?
It's like over twice as likely to die by suicide or at least suffer from mental health issues. Yeah, it's really upsetting.
What are the most high-risk populations for suicide?
We have focused on the gifted population. I think there's a perfect combination of high-achieving bright kids which makes them more sensitive, really high-achieving parents with expectations. The gifted population that's just trying to get by with all this achievement, the LGBTQ population, and grieving kids are really at risk because they've had trauma.
How big is your LGBTQ group?
The group went so well with over 100 kids. It started out though with 20 kids and 10 LGBTQ adults.
Why are groups so important?
Absolutely groups because they're so powerful! To me, groups for any age, there's a collectivity and there's such a loneliness in mental health. Like today we're going to have a kid who is 14, 17, and 20 and we have a 30-year-old. They're different ages, totally different backgrounds, and experiences, but they all have something in common. So whether it's spoken or not, they feel seen and heard and not so alone. It's lasting.
How challenging was it to run groups during COVID?
The group was hard during COVID to keep doing zoom groups. So we had a really great art therapy group weekly and it was really well attended until about March. I think that's when everybody started to feel that Zoom fatigue.
Right now we probably have six [groups], and we had twice that before COVID meeting once a month and every week.
How was individual therapy working over Zoom?
In the therapy world we noticed ... let's say a kid comes to therapy in a room like this after school, there's 10 minutes of them kind of peeling away the mask that they've had on all day. When they're in their bedroom, I'll say, "Is that your dog?" and you're like right in there with them and they haven't come from a place where they've had to be wearing the mask. They're just vulnerable right away. And I've done some amazing work with people online because they were in the safety of their room and they were willing to go deeper than face-to-face a lot of times.
How has the LGBTQ community been received by the Evergreen faith community?
From the experience with the Methodist church and this church [Christian Church Disciples of Christ ], it's all positive. Just the kindest people. Knowing these kids are hurting, knowing they're at risk, and knowing God loves them—really embracing the LGBTQ youth.
The churches have been amazing up here, and patted me on the back and said, "Thank You." They are all about what we are doing. All denominations up here. It's been amazing because how can we argue if suicide is the leading cause for youth deaths in Colorado, how can we argue that it's even a no-brainer? That's where the community has embraced us. Young Life has been great. We're not a faith-based group, but we do have Christian therapists, Jewish therapists, non-faith-based therapists. It's a mixed bag. Because we need everybody.
How have the LGBTQ kids received the faith community?
I can see the kids' reservation coming to church for this great room, in this great space, and [Reverend] Jack's wonderful and his group [Christian Church Disciples of Christ]. I think they [LGBTQ] would hope in time that they [CCDC] would be trusted. I think the LGBTQ youth is very reserved and very afraid and very hurt by what happened in the past. There's some really mixed messages.
How has the Evergreen community supported the LGBTQ group and Resilience 1220?
Amazing. The schools, the counselors are so overloaded. We got to talk to the National Honors Society, marching band, the orchestra. That was at Evergreen. Conifer wants to run a girls' group next fall. The private schools have asked us to come in and talk to teachers, parents, kids.
Even a gun store donated to us recently. Granted, it was the third kid who took his life by a gunshot. I just talked to his mom this morning; using her experience to help. She took the sibling gun (not the actual gun used), [and said] I want to resell this gun. It's got this experience attached to it. I want the gun sale money to go to Resilience 1220 and so they [gun store] donated that with a little of their own. It's in Conifer.
And then we have these little donations jars across town, and the most we've ever made is in a liquor store by Bergen Park—$150 versus the pet store $24.
So what sets Evergreen apart from other communities regarding their collective support?
We have more nonprofits in this town than you can imagine. We have very kind people. I speak of Evergreen but Clear Creek County, Gilpin, Conifer, Bailey. They are like: you want a fundraiser? No problem. You want a discount? Yes. You want a donation? Yes. Nobody said no because we've all been a teenager, we might have teenagers, or we have grandkids, or maybe we don't have kids but can't imagine being in the world as it is today being a teenager. This generation was born around 9/11 and then they learn what to do in a school shooting, and then now past year with Black Lives Matter, the political state, global warming, COVID. They were the first generation to get that full freedom of social media. What a wild ride.
What stigmas around therapy have you battled? Share in the comments.