Colorado no longer ranks as the worst state in the nation for mental illness prevalence and access to treatment for adults. This is where it was held in the 2022 American Mental Health Report.
A recently released 2023 report from Mental Health America ranked Colorado 45th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for adult prevalence and access.
Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, an affiliate of Mental Health America, said the improvement was minimal.
“The numbers swing up and down for both adults and children. That’s the nature of this data,” he said. “Colorado definitely ranks in the bottom third of the country.”
Atchity said the data provides a snapshot of time, lagging behind in real time, and that the 2023 report used stats from 2019 and 2020, which is the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It points out that it only occupies nine months.
The full impact of the pandemic on mental health is only now becoming apparent, and even into the new year, the mental health of Coloradoans continues to be a concern.
Dr. Eric French, who runs Mind Spa Denver in Greenwood Village, runs an outpatient psychiatry and psychology clinic.
“People are still cleaning up after what happened between 2020 and 2022,” he said. “Many people have crouched and pushed through in survival mode and now realize how deeply impacted this is. It is becoming a more traumatic situation.”
And people seem unsure about how to move forward, which increases anxiety and creates a sense of hopelessness, French said.
Anyone who has recently sought the services of a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or counselor knows there is a shortage of providers, says the Colorado Springs office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). said Lori Jarvis, Executive Director of .
“Waiting times are long and many are not accepting new patients,” Jarvis said.
Atchity said many people wait 30 to 60 days for an appointment.
Still, “You may walk in the door, but what are your chances of connecting with a provider who understands your situation and can provide the support you need?” he asked.
This is especially true for LGBTQ+ people, blacks, Hispanics, other people of color, rural residents, and asylum seekers.
Coloradoans are more isolated than residents of densely populated states, access to treatment may be non-existent in rural areas, and people may move to larger cities to receive care, Atchti said. are forced to
The state’s economy is doing well, according to indicators such as employment, and despite the state’s high national rankings for adult education levels, “the mental health access gap doesn’t seem to be closing,” he said. I was.
“Creating a therapeutic pipeline is essential,” said Atchity. “The state of mental health in Colorado is dire.”
“Thanks for the trend”
Young people have performed well in the State of Mental Health rankings in recent years, rising from 13th in 2022 to 11th in the 2023 edition.
The report looked at the number of people with some form of mental illness, those seriously considering suicide, and those with substance use disorders in the past year. were uninsured, uninsured, or had other cost constraints or unmet needs.
Colorado’s overall ranking, which takes into account child and adult conditions, has shown improvement over the past few years, ranking 47th, the worst in the nation, in the 2021 report, but 37th in 2022. , and in 2023 it will be 30th.
Colorado’s numbers “still aren’t great, but we appreciate the trend,” Jarvis said.
New methods being employed to address provider shortages and labor shortages, such as utilizing piercing specialists and nurse practitioners, are helping to expand services to meet treatment demand.
Her organization’s peer support program, run by people with mental disorders and those whose families are suffering, is “recognized as a good way to support mental health needs when someone is suffering.” ” said Jarvis.
Other aids are imminent, but some will take years to materialize.
The state is applying for planning grants from Safer Communities, a bipartisan gun control law that Congress passed last year, to develop more accredited community behavioral health centers, Jarvis said. I’m here.
Also, six months into its inception, the Colorado Department of Behavioral Health is working furiously to meet the requirements of new legislation aimed at overhauling and reforming what it identifies as a broken and fragmented system. It’s being worked on, officials said at the agency’s first monthly virtual town hall on Jan. 15. twenty five.
With the overall goal of meeting the behavioral health needs of all Colorado residents, a new system of governance at the Cabinet level (meaning the Commissioner reports directly to Governor Jared Polis) will: Better access, affordability, workforce support, whole person care, accountability, and community and consumer guidance, said Stacey Davis, a licensed clinical social worker at the BHA.
Officials said progress had been made. State lawmakers have allocated $450 million from federal pandemic relief funds to add hospital beds, crisis response, care coordination, diversion of justice, community gaps, workforce and youth programs. COVID relief funds have also helped build capacity and increase responders for the new national 988 crisis hotline.
The Behavioral Health Service will release its strategic plan for the next three years next week, a staff member said. This document outlines where the regime is and where it is headed.
According to Tom Miller, head of the government’s quality and standards division, people frequently complain that they are being turned down for service.
Restructuring and revision of regulations would prevent that from happening, he said, by developing a “safety net system” where people would not be turned away because of their inability to pay or their level of sensitivity. Also, a new “cafeteria-style” format of licensing is underway. This format allows providers to select areas of expertise recommendation in addition to the basic services they provide.
Miller said the new legislative-led rule, currently 300 pages in length, needs to be completed by June 30.
Establish behavioral health services organizations statewide and regionally to help coordinate patient care, reduce patient disruption, manage services, and enable families to initiate and access the types of behavioral health care they need. should be established by July 2024, the speaker said.
A plan to establish a statewide complaints and performance monitoring system must also be submitted by July 2024.
Virtual Public Town Halls will be held monthly throughout the year, with the next one scheduled for February 22nd from 3-4pm. Registration is done at https://bha.colorado.gov.
Some problems seem nearly impossible to fix.
Insurance companies do not reimburse mental health providers to maintain their practices and do not cover patient care, even though mental health benefits are part of insurance.
“Medical costs must come down,” he said. “Most outpatient clinics have had to see more patients per hour, so they are coming and going and not being listened to.”
At that point, “you may find that your quality is declining, or you may not want mental health care at all,” he said.
He encourages people to stay strong, eat clean, exercise regularly, optimize sleep, and adopt mindfulness practices that focus on the here and now.
Such activities reduce stress, says French, and encourages people to intentionally carve out time in their schedules for such activities.
“If you’re starting to feel hopeless, thinking you’ll be better off if you’re not here, or have active suicidal thoughts, reach out to someone,” he said. . “Let someone know things are getting to that point. We need to find a way to give patients access. Patient lives depend on it.”