Keep Talking

Aspen Cares Theatrical Fashion Show creative director Katy Parnello sheds light on the importance of mental health awareness.
Proceeds of the fashion show support Aspen Hope Center.

While rehearsing for the 8th Annual Aspen Cares Theatrical Fashion Show last year, I was discussing the state of mind of a central character. Talking with the model playing the part, I described a feeling of paralysis while reaching out for a door handle and not being able to open the door. She looked at me and asked, “Is that something that happens to people?” Her reaction made me stop for a moment; I realized this was not something everyone had experienced.

The day in my early 20s when I found myself unable to turn a door handle and walk outside my family home was so poignant, so transformative—I took for granted that everyone must have experienced something similar at one time or another. Back then, I was in a phase of incredible anxiety and depression, and lucky enough to have a supportive family and professional services to help me navigate these foreign waters. Now on the other side of it, I am grateful for this period of my life, and thankful for the tools I acquired which help me to this day.

Our one-night-only Aspen Cares Theatrical Fashion Show weaves dance, movement, music, story—and of course fashion—into a seamless performance. High-end to streetwear fashion designers are featured. Proceeds support the Aspen Hope Center, whose mission is to extend a beacon of encouragement to those in emotional crisis, and provide suicide prevention services and care. Our goal is to get people talking about mental health issues, to understand there are ways to talk about them, and to know that there are people in their community dealing with these challenges right now.

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and Aspen one of the highest in the state. This reality is not something that Aspen is taking lightly. Pitkin County commissioner Greg Poschman has implemented a two-pronged approach to reduce Aspen’s high suicide numbers. The first is to provide mental health first-aid training to anyone in Pitkin County who is interested in taking it—the Aspen Hope Center gives these courses. The second approach is resiliency training, focused on the youth of the community, to teach them to recover quickly from situations involving stress, adversity or tragedy.

By educating its residents, the city of Aspen will help others spot vulnerable behavior and advocate for their state of being. Hopefully their example will help other communities create successful programs across the country. So, keep talking. Keep listening. Know you are not alone. We are all in this together.

The 9th Annual Aspen Cares Theatrical Fashion Show benefiting the Aspen Hope Center is on Feb. 6 at Belly Up Aspen (; from $100 for general admission;