Courtney Sanders believes there is “absolutely” a barrier that stands in the way of open conversation about mental illness.
“The stigma is so real, and it’s so — I mean, the shame that you carry, I am all too familiar with it,” said Sanders, who has bipolar disorder. “And we don’t want to admit to our friends and loved ones that we’re suffering, and we may need a lot of extra layers of support. It’s just really hard to be open about that.”
Sanders, though, is more than ready to be open about her own experiences with mental illness and mental health, which is why she’s leading a conversation at 6 pm Wednesday at The Collective Hall in Snowmass Base Village.
This week’s event, “Talk Mental with Me,” will focus on mental health challenges and resiliency; it’s the latest of several talks Sanders has led at The Collective on the topic of mental health. (She’s also the founder of The Bipolar Divine, a resource platform she established based on her own experiences living with bipolar disorder.)
Previous events have brought around 15-20 attendees to The Collective and as many as 50 on Zoom, she said.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to want to show up in person to these types of things, because it is so sensitive,” Sanders said. The online iteration ensures that “anyone can participate from anywhere,” which can help with the comfort level during conversations about mental illness.
In person, too, Sanders said she finds The Collective Hall to be a “safer space that you feel comfortable.”
But no matter how people attend, Sanders said she has heard of the appreciation folks have for these events.
“There’s no pressure, you know? … You can come and stay as long as you want, you can leave when you want,” she said.
Creating that sense of comfort is crucial for conversations like the one that will take place at The Collective on Wednesday, Sanders said.
“It’s really hard to be vulnerable in general, and I think something like mental illness, there’s just so much shame surrounding it, which is why I’m so passionate about speaking about it, because there just shouldn’t be,” she said . “It’s like, if someone’s sick with diabetes, or even anything, it’s never shameful. It just is what it is.
“And I feel like mental health … needs more resources and support for us to feel comfortable and open about being honest with where we’re at,” she said.
Sanders, who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for nearly a decade, is well acquainted with the existing resources in the valley like Aspen Strong, Aspen Hope Center and Mind Springs Health.
She also is aware of the significant need for mental health support here and wants to offer an “additional layer of support” by way of peer-to-peer connections that she has found so helpful herself.
“That was one thing that I found so supportive, for me personally, was peer-to-peer support,” Sanders said. “People speaking out and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been here, I’ve been through this. It’s really difficult right now, but you’re going to get through it, and it’s going to be great when you make it on the other side, and you have that resiliency, to move forward with confidence in life instead of being afraid of what’s going to happen next.”