DENVER (CBS4) -- In his annual State of the State Address, Gov. Jared Polis addressed what he called a "horrifying trend" -- a spike in mental health issues among young people in Colorado during the pandemic.
"Here in Colorado and across the nation, the pandemic has worsened what was already a horrifying trend of young children, teens, and adults suffering increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, depression and other mental health issues," Polis said.
"Colorado needs to take bold action now."
Polis said that will involve offering more integrated physical and mental health services and getting Colorado children the support they need to be happy – "to just be kids."
Polis spoke about the free I Matter Program, created to connect kids with critical mental health support and introduce a mother and son who were helped by it.
"When Grady -- like so many kids across our state -- needed mental health support this last year, Melyssa ran up against the harsh reality of an expensive and bureaucratic behavioral health system," Polis explained.
"She had first struggled to find the support her family needed, until she found the free I Matter Program. Within minutes of reaching out through imattercolorado.org, Melyssa and Grady were on their way. And a few days later, they were scheduled for their first appointment."
Polis thanked Grady for attending the event, and praised him for helping to reduce the stigma around mental health and asking for help.
"...you are never alone," Polis said.
Grady said while it was intimidating to stand in front of the entire legislative body to talk about mental health, it was worth it.
"Empathy is a big trait that I have that's what my mom tells me a lot and so helping kids any way I can in this big way- with such a huge influence, I think will really make a difference," he said.
For his mother, it was not only about supporting her son, it was about letting other parents know there is hope in the midst of the pandemic.
"I don't think I'm alone in like watching your kids struggle through this pandemic and as things have changed, and their schedule changed and their freedoms have changed and the disappointment that gets layered on and you can only do so much as mom and you're constantly trying to be that cheerleader but there are times where there just gonna be in that space and as a proponent of counseling I've felt like that could be something that he could really benefit from," she said.
While Grady knows that some kids may be reluctant to seek counseling, he says he knew the program was a fit almost immediately.
"Within the first probably one or two sessions, I immediately felt better after," he said.
Melissa added that you don't need a parent or an adult to set up an appointment.
Polis also emphasized the importance of a strong and stable education experience in the wellbeing of children -- a point emphasized by Dr. David Brumbaugh at Children's Hospital Colorado during a news conference earlier this month.
Brumbaugh said a "shocking" number of young Coloradans have been going to emergency rooms during the pandemic for behavioral health crises and suicidal ideation.
He said kids not only learn better when they're physically present in school, but that in-person learning is critical for the mental health and well being of kids.
"In contrast, when kids are kept out in school, we've seen the impacts of acute behavioral health crises and suicidal ideation," Brumbaugh stated. "Grief can be overwhelming and it's taking a real toll on our children."
"The biggest antidote to that is keeping kids in school and keeping them in their normal routines," he added.
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