Backers of Denver's mental-health tax measure say they'll file plenty of signatures

Andrew Romanoff, then president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, and state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denve announce the Caring 4 Denver initiative outside the Colorado Capitol in 2018.

The cost of the pandemic that can't be calculated is the toll of mental illness.

While policymakers and the private sector sort out the debris of the global coronavirus tragedy, the mental health of many will factor heavily into the losses, as certainly as a washed-out bridge in a flood.

When this gets sorted out, you can count on the influence of state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, a social worker by training and a man I know to be of remarkable compassion and character. He is hosting a series of weekly webinars on the needs.

"This is inarguably one of the most stressful times imaginable for many of us," Singer said in a Sunday afternoon telephone town hall with a panel of mental health experts. People are worried about their jobs, their family and their own health, he said.

"I can only describe the virus as dark and insidious," said Boulder-based author Robert Dresner, who was released recently from a hospital. He called his experience with the disease the sickest he's ever been.

Barry Erdman, a clinical social worker and therapist in Boulder, predicted the curve of needs for mental health would follow the curve of infections that leaders are trying to flatten.

Solving one ailment worsens another. Those of us who struggle with depression know isolation as a symptom, not an antidote. Worry is a companion, not an unwelcome guest. 

President Donald Trump cited it when he extended the national shutdown through April on March 29, shuttering more businesses and costing more jobs. 

“You’re going to have mental depression for people,” Trump said.

When U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff launched a social media series to reach would-be voters on March 22, he, too, spoke with a panel of mental health experts. After he was speaker of the Colorado House, Romanoff was the president of Mental Health Colorado. 

“It’s a known fact that isolation is one of the components for usage and addiction,” said Dr. Hunter Kennedy, the executive director at Colorado’s Footprints to Recovery.

He said everyone should make a plan to get enough activity, working their bodies and minds in a direction away from worry and dread.

“It’s important that whatever your spiritual practice is, you engage in it,” Kennedy said.

My friend Tina Griego has a piece in the Colorado Independent that laid this out expertly and beautifully, as she always does.

“I’m very concerned that we will end up with a lot more individual survivors and survivors with children who will become homeless,” Amy Miller, executive director of the coalition Violence Free Colorado, told Griego. “I am worried that homicides will increase. Physical violence will probably escalate and what does that mean also for a health care system already pushed beyond capacity by people affected by COVID-19?”

Society was dealing with a lot before this virus blew out the gaskets.

Insurance rates that Colorado lawmakers have been toiling to bring down could, instead, spike 40% next year because of coronavirus costs, the New York Times reported. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis made a campaign promise to save people money on their health care. That matters more now.

Washington is looking to stem the infections, flatten the curve and prop up the economy. Congress checks in the trillions to bail out the economy, courtesy of taxpayers, with more to come. 

People who’ve railed about government handouts for decades will be just as quick to cash their $1,200 Trump checks. Here's the best line I've seen that was reposted on Twitter (I don't know who said it first): What’s the difference between a Republican and a socialist? About $1,200.

Have conservative principles changed? I was exchanging texts about this with the conservative pundit and GOP operative Tamra Farah a couple of weeks ago. I told her government money is not red or blue. It’s all green, and it all belongs to taxpayers. If socialism and the common good bankrupt America, then so do corporate bailouts and stimulus checks to people who don't need them.

Progressives want money for the arts in the relief package now because it might not be there later, don't kid yourself otherwise. When the bank account is empty it’s just as empty, no matter where the money went. 

We're digging a hole in the bottom of pit. Those who love their country and put undying faith in their partisan talking points, on both sides, will need mental gymnastics or quiet resignation to get through the months ahead. That won't be easy on hearts and minds. 

Can a relief package of taxpayer dollars from Washington fix that? Washington spends money the way Americans buy toilet paper: It’s what politicians do when they can’t think of anything else.

First, we must deal with our physical health before we can think of our economic health. In between, however, policy makers, professionals and each one of us must think of our mental health. Our thoughts, our beliefs and our faith make up the glue that holds us and society together.

"This particular crisis really drives the message home that our physical health and our mental health are not two separate things," said Vincent Atchity, the CEO of Mental Health Colorado. "They are, in fact, two sides of the very same coin." 

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