A Very Merry Month for Mental Health in Denver

By Carl Clark, MD,
President & CEO of the WellPower

Colorado mental health supporters have every reason to feel merry this holiday season.

Earlier this month it was announced that the state of Colorado was awarded $65 million in State Innovation Model (SIM) funding to create a coordinated, accountable system of care that gives Coloradans access to integrated primary care and behavioral health. This award came on the heels of the news that the city of Denver would become the first and only metropolitan area to establish an Office of Behavioral Strategies to coordinate behavioral health efforts amongst several city departments that have mental health components.

These are game changers for mental health care in Denver and Colorado. I am pleased with each announcement and together I believe they represent a major shift in how mental health is viewed. For far too many years mental health care was treated as an optional service that was nice to offer but wasn’t essential. It was easy to sacrifice when budgets were tight and this sentiment landed Colorado towards the bottom of the list of what each state spent on mental health.

But that was then and this is now.

The awareness that good mental health is an essential part of a community’s wellbeing continues to grow. When community members are valued, engaged and striving to their fullest potential, everyone wins. Mental health issues impact us all. Whether you are a “regular Joe” who is struggling with a life event like unemployment or divorce or someone who has been diagnosed with a more serious disorder, access to care is critical to help you live your best life and in turn help the community thrive.

Imagine the impact of 11,000 city employees receiving education around mental health and then the Denver Public Schools’ 15,000 employees. With 26,000 people in key and front line positions in government and education, the mental health literacy of our city rises and causes a ripple effect of understanding, compassion and the ability to help identify people who need help and point them to the appropriate resources.

When 80 percent of the Coloradans who go for a check up at their primary care doctor are also asked if they are experiencing any anxiety, sleep disruptions, sadness or major life events and if so, would they like to step down the hall to talk to someone about strategies to help them, we are normalizing mental health and making it acceptable to get help. I believe this integrated approach and “check up from the neck up” is the framework that will significantly change the system in a positive way that will be felt statewide.

As we look back on 2014, I am thrilled with the mental health gains that were made. Here’s to 2015 and the hope that the ripple effect of these new initiatives will spread far and wide as more Coloradans have access to care and more people view mental illness with the compassion and understanding it warrants.