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A Historic Moment To Improve Coloradans' Mental Health

(CBS4) - During a CBS News Colorado Community Conversation, some of the state's leading mental health experts described communities in crisis, a severe shortage of workers and massive investments underway to reform a system of care that's failed too many Coloradans.

As part of our commitment with MTV to improve mental health in our community, CBS Denver's Karen Leigh spoke to Dr. Morgan Medlock, Behavioral Health Commissioner for State of Colorado, Dr. Ron-Li Liaw, Mental-Health-in-Chief at Children's Hospital Colorado and Steven Haden, CEO of Envision: You, an organization that releases the annual state LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health State of the State report.

"To think there is that level of hopelessness and despair among our youth in this country is really troubling," said Haden on describing a recent survey that found 50% of LGBTQ+ youth have had serious thoughts of killing themselves.

Children's Hospital's Dr. Liaw said that half their trauma beds are taken up by children who have attempted suicide (some as young as 10 years old) as the hospital sees a surge in eating disorders, substance abuse and depression and anxiety. Children's is seeing double the number of mental health ER visits compared to 2019. The hospital system has made child mental health its number one strategic, operational and master planning priority.

Working with school districts and pediatrician's offices to identify opportunities for early intervention, the hospital is also collaborating with the state to build a new workforce of mental health practitioners. These efforts include identifying individuals with lived experience with mental health challenges who can train as care support specialists, or youth peer support specialists.

Liaw said, "When you have 30% workforce turnover in a whole field, it really gives us the opportunity to recruit from places that we traditionally wouldn't look at and create something like a mental health service corps, so folks in local communities can really think about meaningful careers."

Alexander Jacob telling the story of his life and how he came to the Sanderson Apartments. Sanderson is the first apartment building in the country that has "mental health architecture," meaning it's designed with open areas, no dark corners and other features to make people feel safe after living on the streets. March 7, 2018. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Commissioner Medlock stressed that mental health care needs to be accessible, so she's called for establishing a "front door" to care. This summer the Behavioral Health Administration will launch a public-facing care directory. The BHA has also expanded "I Matter" which connects youth with a therapist for up to 6 free virtual counseling sessions. And a new BHA Advisory Council seeks the public's support in rebuilding the state's mental health care network, applications to participate are open until June 11.

Dr. Medlock said, "When we think about an expanded front door, we have done a lot this legislative session to ensure that when the people of Colorado need help and need help in an urgent way that they're able to get the care they need."

SPECIAL SECTION: Mental Health Is Health

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