Denver City and County Building

The Denver City and County Building.

Last year, almost 94,000 Denver residents reported having poor mental health in the previous 30 days. Approximately 30% of teenagers said they felt sad or hopeless for two or more weeks. And among people living at or below twice the federal poverty level, one in four was afflicted with poor mental health.

On Monday, Denver released the “Road To Wellness” report, which offers dozens of recommendations to provide consistent and comprehensive mental health care.

“There can be no ‘wrong door’ for people in need of help,” said Robin Wittenstein, the chief executive officer for Denver Health.

The report suggests that community organizations and workplaces should receive training to recognize and respond to behavioral health issues, citing the 67,000 Coloradans who have participated in Mental Health First Aid, a national training program similar to that for CPR.

In the category of integrated and coordinated care, the “Road To Wellness” advocates for a round-the-clock behavioral health center. The report envisions that this would help some of the 16% of Denver residents who reported needing health care in 2019 but not getting it, as well as the 21.7 per 100,000 residents who committed suicide in 2018.

Describing as a “building block” the Denver Police Department’s co-responder program in which social workers respond to calls for service with officers to provide care without necessarily arresting someone in crisis, the report recommended going a step further.

“Establish a first response mechanism that is distinct from law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical providers to connect people experiencing behavioral health crises with behavioral health providers directly,” it advised.

The report is the product of a working group that convened in October 2018 and included more than 100 people representing 50 organizations.

Among the group’s major findings was that there exists a lack of “consistent public messaging about a sober lifestyle” and communication of options for substance abuse treatment other than a residential facility admission. There was also a discovery that support services offered by people who themselves experienced behavioral health issues were “powerful” but “under-utilized.”

Stigma emerged as a major barrier to seeking mental health care. Recognizing that problem, the state government launched the SEE ME campaign in December to encourage open sharing of mental health struggles during the winter holidays.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Human Services reported that approximately 3,000 people engaged with the website, the pledge to be compassionate and supportive, and the 14-day set of challenges around mental health awareness.

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