Apr 222007
Authors: Brian Park

One person commits suicide every nine days in Larimer County.

And that’s why issues of mental health and illness need to be at the forefront of Colorado’s agenda, said Jeannie Ritter, wife of Gov. Bill Ritter, to a crowd of about 100 gathered in the Lory Student Center Theatre on Friday morning.

“If we had a virus running through Larimer County and it was killing people every nine days it would be a top story,” she said.

Colorado’s first lady touched on the Virginia Tech shootings, the stigmas associated with mental illness and legislation regarding mental health issues.

As Colorado’s first lady, Ritter has placed mental health and illness on the top of her agenda, and she wants people to talk about it more openly.

“Why choose mental illness?” is a question people constantly ask her.

“If I had chosen breast cancer or children’s literacy they wouldn’t be asking me that,” she said. “The very fact that you’re asking me that is the answer to the question.”

While the topic of her speech was serious, Ritter kept the crowd at ease with humor and a conversational tone.

“That’s cheeky – you can’t throw a funding question at me, I live with the governor,” Ritter replied after being asked about future funding for mental health in Colorado by an audience member.

The first lady went on to explain that the use of state dollars needs to better spent and policies should be enacted that reflect the geographical problems of certain areas. For instance, the problems the Front Range experiences are completely different than those of the San Luis Valley.

“How’s that for dodging the question,” Ritter quipped afterward.

The speech was sponsored by Active Minds, a CSU peer-to-peer organization for college students dedicated to mental health that works on campus with the counseling center.

“As someone who has been affected by mental disorders this was just so powerful,” said Lannea Russell, a senior animal science major. “I wish everyone who wasn’t here today could hear something like this.”

Staff writer Brian Park can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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