At a Tuesday Aspen City Council meeting, Councilmember Ward Hauenstein proposed hosting talks focused on mental health advocacy and awareness at the Wheeler Opera House, pictured. 

Aspen City Council asked City Manager Sara Ott on Tuesday to begin organizing a series of events focusing on mental health awareness.

Prior to Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, Councilmember Ward Hauenstein pitched the idea of at least two annual free presentations at the Wheeler Opera House to provide suicide awareness training and other mental health awareness events. By partnering with local organizations, Hauenstein said he wanted to provide educational sessions to the public that would address suicide awareness, the impacts of social media, how to react to suicide and alcohol abuse and treatment. 

The city has not offered suicide awareness trainings to the community since 2017, and Hauenstein said that multiple local organizations expressed willingness to work with him in moving forward. 

“The challenges our community faces need the support of all,” he wrote in an email. “We all have to join our considerable talents, knowledge, resources and energies to bring these issues to the front of our conscience.”

Other members of council were supportive of the proposal and agreed to ask Ott to put something together. Mayor Torre said he would like to see at least one event before the winter season kicks off in December. Councilmember Rachel Richards said she was concerned that he  did not give the council enough time to plan an event on the scale of what members would like to see, and suggested that it should include multiple partners like Pitkin County, Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Valley Hospital and the Aspen Police Department.

“I see perhaps this taking more time to really organize as completely as you like, or maybe there’s a kick-off in November or a planned series that continues every two months,” she said. “Any one of these topics could be a full two-hour meeting, let alone trying to squeeze three into one meeting.”

Council members were also concerned about how to address the individuals who are most affected by mental illness. Torre said the events should be livestreamed and recorded so that anyone can watch them at any time. Hauenstein added that the goal is to provide training to community members so they can engage and assist people they know who are affected by depression or propensities toward suicide ideation.  

“I think our biggest hurdle is we have so many avenues for people to get help and we’re not reaching the people who need it the most, and that’s the question that we have to answer,” Councilmember John Doyle said. “That’s the goal that we’re working towards, is reaching the people who need that.”

Councilmember Skippy Mesirow suggested an event that caters more to individuals, such as a fair where people can browse different resources. 

“I see this as providing the ingredients and letting the community build its own soup,” he said. 

Ott agreed to attempt to deliver some basic programming before Dec. 15 and to seek a larger conversation on mental health resources with other local organizations. Council will likely discuss the events again at a work session next week, which members of the public can watch in person, on WebEx or on Facebook. Council will then take a motion at a future meeting to approve a process for the events.