According to Mental Health America’s 2023 State of Mental Health in America report, Colorado ranked 45th for adult mental health. That’s a small improvement, but it still ranks well below the national average, according to Vincent Atchity, executive director of Mental Health Colorado.
Access to care for Coloradans with serious mental health issues remains a struggle, particularly for people of color and rural residents. And there’s a shortage of psychologists, therapists, and even online therapy services in the state.
In the wake of community tragedies linked with mental illness — including last December’s murder-suicide at Arapahoe High School and Aurora’s theater shooting in 2012 that left 12 dead and 70 injured — Colorado has been a hot spot for policymakers to make changes in its struggling behavioral health system. Legislators have put a lot of money into statewide initiatives, including walk-in and mobile mental health crisis services in four regions and alternatives to emergency rooms for those who need immediate treatment.
It’s an effort to ensure Coloradans haven’t turned away for lack of resources or long wait times, as has often been the case. Despite the investment, many say the state’s psychiatric system is strained.
The psychiatric community is in an age of unprecedented shortages, fueled by the national opioid epidemic and the recession that hit the healthcare industry. That means fewer doctors are willing to practice psychiatry, and fewer patients can afford it.
Those who want to practice it are competing for jobs with other healthcare professionals. That means fewer people are available to work in psychiatry, which is an especially critical specialty for rural areas, where there are fewer psychiatrists and less money to support them.
That leaves a gap in mental healthcare in the state, and Colorado ranked worst overall for adult mental health in a recent ranking by the non-profit Mental Health America. The organization looked at seven metrics and found that Colorado has a huge need for mental health care but a very small supply of it.
A major challenge to Colorado’s ability to offer more effective psychiatric services is the lack of psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are needed to treat patients with mental illnesses and help their family members understand the symptoms and how to get them the right treatment.
But there are only about 3,000 psychiatrists in the country, and many of them aren’t practicing in Colorado. So, if the state wants to improve at treating patients, it needs to hire more.
That would require a new approach to mental healthcare, and it might not happen fast enough, advocates say. But they believe that Colorado could begin by getting serious about tackling the root causes of mental illnesses, such as poverty and family breakdown. And that the best way to do that is by improving education and training about mental illness and ensuring that people are getting the care they need when they need it.
Colorado has a wide array of mental health services that are accessible to all, including specialized care for people with psychiatric conditions and substance use disorders. The state also provides funding to help those with low incomes access mental health care through Medicaid and non-Medicaid OBH programs.
Those with insurance have access to mental health services through their primary care doctor’s office, where they are often screened for depression and anxiety, just like they are for high blood pressure, weight, and height. But many patients are sent to a therapist at a different place for their mental health treatment. That can be a barrier to patients seeking care, and experts say it makes it more likely that people will go without mental health treatment because they don’t have the time or inclination to drive out of town to receive it.
It’s a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that hospitals recoup less money from insurance companies for psychiatric care than they do for physical care. In addition, a growing number of community clinics are treating more people through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurance companies to cover mental health services as well as other medical conditions.
As a result, the state is facing a shortage of psychiatrists and other behavioral health professionals who can treat patients with severe mental illnesses. The resulting shortage in care is one of the reasons that Colorado is among the top five states in suicide rates and has seen an increase in the number of murders linked to mental illness.
The shortage in care has a major impact on children and teens, too. According to a Children’s Hospital Colorado report, nearly one-third of Colorado public middle and high school students suffer from some form of emotional disturbance or mental illness. This is particularly true of those living in poverty and experiencing homelessness.
Even those who have access to care are often frustrated that the state is only talking about improving the system after a tragedy. That’s especially true in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, which was linked to mental illness, and a recent suicide at Arapahoe High School, which was linked to a student with a history of drug abuse.
Mental health is an important part of a person’s overall wellness, so individuals must seek help to address their emotional concerns. The state of Colorado provides a range of treatment options to meet the needs of people with mental illness and other conditions that affect their well-being.
Colorado’s most comprehensive treatment options are available through public health programs, which provide free crisis services and counseling appointments. The state also has a statewide crisis line that anyone in need of help can access.
There are a number of treatment centers in Colorado that offer various treatment options for mental illness and other behavioral disorders. Some facilities focus on addiction recovery, while others offer comprehensive programs for dual-diagnosis patients.
Regardless of the type of facility you choose, your treatment plan will be tailored to your individual needs and may include individual or group therapy sessions and holistic activities such as meditation, yoga, music, and art. There are also opportunities for community outreach and involvement to promote a sense of community.
At Colorado Recovery, you’ll receive intensive psychiatric care and a psychosocial rehabilitation program to help you overcome mental illness, achieve positive mental health, and find a sense of purpose in your life. Founded by world-renowned psychiatrist Richard Warner, the program is based on evidence-based treatments and a continuum of integrated care.
You can expect to attend regular outpatient meetings with your care coordinator and psychiatrist, including group therapy. During this time, you’ll be monitored closely to ensure you take your medication as directed and meet your clinical goals.
Your treatment plan can also include an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) to give you more intensive support, along with a variety of community outreach and peer-led activities that can help you develop friendships and a sense of belonging. Your care coordinator will help you with your care plan and will be on hand to answer any questions or concerns that you may have.
The cost of these services can vary, depending on the specific level of care you’re receiving and whether you’re covered by insurance or not. Some programs may require payment upfront, while others may require sliding-scale payments.
Despite its pristine mountains and quaint towns, Colorado has become home to a growing number of people who are struggling with addiction. This is due in large part to the growth of marijuana use and the rising opioid crisis that has plagued the state.
Whether you’re a recovering addict or someone who’s looking to help a loved one, it’s important to understand that there are many different types of treatment facilities in Colorado. Each rehab center offers a unique set of amenities and programs that can help you achieve recovery.
When looking for a rehab, consider your personal needs and values. You may want a program that is faith-based or provides options for group therapy and activities. There are also many options for outpatient treatment so that you can maintain your job or schooling.
You should also find a facility that offers support for aftercare. It’s common for addicts to relapse after treatment, so ensure you have access to resources to help you stay on track in your recovery journey.
It’s also helpful to talk to your counselor or group leaders when you feel like you’re getting stuck in a cycle of relapse. They’ll help you set goals and create a plan to address these issues to continue your recovery journey.
According to a recent report by Mental Health America, Colorado is ranked last among states with high levels of mental illness and low rates of access to treatment for adults. This means that the state has a lot of work to do when it comes to its mental health system.
The state has a new commissioner of behavioral health administration, who is charged with addressing the many problems the system is facing. She’s tasked with creating better access, affordability, workforce support, whole-person care, accountability, and local and consumer guidance.
Adding more residential and outpatient treatment beds is a priority, Jarvis said. A task force that’s been working to improve the state’s behavioral health system recommends spending $65 million to $71 million on beds in most needy areas.