One of the biggest lessons we have learned from dealing with this coronavirus pandemic is how interrelated our community really is.

I think this is something a lot of us have known, but the ongoing challenges of the pandemic have highlighted the relationships of the various systems and populations in our community.

The pandemic complicates our various responses to planning for everyday life events and struggles, and just when you think you have it figured out, one of the other factors changes. While there are many resources available, each of us is navigating our unique situations, and that can leave many feeling overwhelmed and ineffective and alone. Living in these COVID-19 times can do a number on your mental and physical health.

There is a great deal in the news about how the pandemic is affecting our mental health and the rise in mental illness across communities. I think we need to look at this a bit differently. The stigma around seeking treatment for mental illness is real and presents a huge barrier to seeking support.

The way I look at it is not to ask, “What is wrong with me?” but instead, “What is happening to me?”

Experiencing periods of high stress can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety and even manifest in physical symptoms. These are all normal reactions to an extraordinary situation.

Working among human service partners for over 20 years, the biggest lesson I have learned revolves around the various systems. What I have learned is that it rarely ever comes down to one intervention or agency. So as the human service groups collaborate to address gaps and trends, how systems impact each other becomes more apparent.

The same approach is needed when looking at mental health. Community issues can strain the entire system, reducing the efficacy of interventions, stressing human service organizations. Our response needs to be communitywide in order to make an impact.

Mental health issues affect all of us. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 4 individuals is dealing with a mental illness of some sort, and that was before the pandemic threw in more stress and challenges. Roughly half do not seek services due to the stigma and affordability.

The consequences of not seeking assistance before reaching a crisis level are felt by not only the individual and families involved but entire communities. Added stress in the environment can exasperate the issue, and the repercussions are felt by employers, law enforcement, hospitals and schools, adding even more stress on social service systems.

There are many resources and agencies that deal with specific issues such as youth crisis, domestic violence or community mental health and substance use. These organizations have responded to the ongoing issues in the community as well as increasing supports during the pandemic. During a time when demands are increasing, the state funds are being drastically cut, and they need your support now more than ever.

It is the responsibility of each of us as community members to take care of one another. When people are struggling, they often turn to those closest to them first. Many times it is the family, school, church or friends who initially respond and then become an ongoing support system. Thus it becomes more important than ever to begin talking openly about mental health struggles. In addition to raising awareness of mental illness issues, it is also important to educate the community, empowering individuals to seek the support they need.

In response to the increased need, Jackson Hole Community Counseling, the Curran-Seeley Foundation, Teton Youth and Family Services and the Community Safety Network have joined St. John’s Health, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, private practitioners and other nonprofits to form a collaborative response.

You may have seen the ads on social media and in the paper launching the Mental Health JH collaborative and “Let’s Talk” campaign. The collaborative is geared toward educating the community about resources for those who may be struggling and toward normalizing the act of seeking support. In addition to various free or reduced cost programs that already exist, the St. John’s Health Foundation is offering to help offset the cost of six sessions for those who need it.

Struggling with mental health issues does not discriminate. It affects individuals of all economic class, races, cultures, age and gender, especially right now.

Roughly half of those dealing with mental illness will not seek treatment. Barriers include individuals thinking they can handle the issue themselves, not knowing where to go for help, stigma attached to mental illness, and the accessibility and affordability of appropriate levels of service, treatment and prescribed medications.

For information on what resources are available in the community, check out the Mental Health JH Facebook page or any of the organizations or individuals participating. You can also call the St. John’s resource line at 203-7880 for information or the counseling center, 733-2046, if you are in crisis or need to talk.

There are so many wonderful resources and programs in our community with a vast array of specialties, programs and supports. “Let’s Talk JH!” Please also consider supporting human service organizations through Old Bill’s Fun Run this year as well.

The price of not investing in mental health is a burden we all share. The consequences will fall on the individuals affected, family members and caregivers, local hospitals and jails, employers, service providers, state, local and federal government entities and, most importantly, quality of care. The responsibility rests on us all to advocate for, support and invest in mental health.

Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work. Contact her by emailing

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