As mountain towns contend with the ongoing impact of COVID-19, CONNECT Summit County has teamed up with the Katz Amsterdam Foundation to promote Part of Our Nature, a mental health awareness campaign. By emphasizing that changes in mental health are a “part of our nature,” the awareness campaign aims to normalize the topic of mental health, reduce stigma, and encourage people to reach out and access resources if needed. One of the most powerful things that we can do to overcome stigma surrounding mental health is to share our personal stories. The campaign uses animals to represent different aspects of mental health, but there are real humans with real stories behind these animals.

Our local bluebird, Christine Napier, helps us know more about her own story and that it’s okay to not be okay, even on the most beautiful days. Christine is the host of PCTV’s Mountain Wellness show, which highlights mental illness and the devastating effect it has on people and families. In every show, brave souls who fight mental illness share their stories. These raw stories make a difference by unveiling the truth; however, it took Christine a few seasons to decide to share her own story of having depression. Diagnosed seven years ago, she takes medication, attends therapy, and tries to live a lifestyle that she knows helps her. Some days are too much and she isn’t the person that she wants to be when she lashes out or retreats. But now that she has shared her vulnerability, she can continue having hard conversations and helping our community end the stigma around mental illness.

Alex Schlopy, our local coyote, wants you to know that you don’t have to carry your burdens alone. Alex had undiagnosed bipolar disorder for a long time and fell into substance use to manage the highs and lows. He found himself disassociated from reality and eventually in a treatment center for a month. It hasn’t been easy for him to accept the stigma, and the effect that his mental illness has had on his family and friends is indescribable. For a long time, Alex wasn’t able to be himself but now that he has been diagnosed, he wants to shed light on this dark area. He knows that many people are struggling with mental illness and he wants you to know that you are not alone. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that you are weak. You deserve to feel good and be treated equally.

The voice of our local moose belongs to Ray Freer. As a mental-health ambassador, he wants you to know that support and resources are available. His son, Todd, had a psychotic break while in college at the age of 19. For 15 years, his son struggled with mental illness and felt intense pain. Sadly, he had at least three more breaks and ultimately took his life at the age of 35. Th e poignant thing is that mentally ill people are not unaware and see their peers graduate from college, get jobs, form families and raise children. Todd heroically tried to come back from each break but could not and it is truly sad to be stuck as everyone around you progresses. Ray knows how important it is to let people know that they are not alone. Mental illness aff ects 20 percent of our society, and it is essential that we overcome the sense of stigma.

In these extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, CONNECT Summit County is uniquely positioned to address the need in the community for access to mental health resources both immediately and going forward. Our mission—to create a well-informed and stigma-free community with access to mental health resources for all—has perhaps never been more relevant than it is now. Th e organization provides educational programming to promote better understanding of mental illness and to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness; an online directory of mental health services available in Summit County in combination with personal assistance in navigating the complexities of the mental health system; and ongoing advocacy to citizens and local government for improved mental health services.

Learn more about donating, volunteering, fundraising and getting involved at: