Statewide Community Mental Health Meetings Gather Momentum

The search for answers in removing both the stigma attached to mental illness and the barriers to more effective treatment drew robust debate in the second round of  meetings organized by Seeking Community Solutions Colorado.

One in four Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

And yet, as I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS reporter Kristin Jones reported from the Denver meeting, the stigma associated with mental illness continues to make it largely a taboo subject, kept behind closed doors and festering in isolation. The resources allocated deliberately toward its treatment, meanwhile, are separate and unequal from what is put toward physical health.

Denver’s dialogue was held at History Colorado and drew about 100 people.

The approximately 100 people who attended the Fort Collins conversation walked away at least a little more encouraged about continuing a nationwide effort seeking solutions for mental illness treatment and prevention, reported Jason Pohl of The Coloradoan newspaper.

“We have pieces and parts,” said Emily Petersen, director of development for Touchstone Health Partners, the group that hosted the Fort Collins meeting. Even with those pieces and parts already in the system, Petersen said not enough is being done to rehabilitate people suffering from various mental illnesses.

Petersen was encouraged by the turnout and at-times fierce discussion about what is and is not being done locally, Pohl reported.

Petersen said the mental illness and substance abuse aspects of health care systems can be compared to what once was true of obesity and smoking. The public is recognizing there are problems with the system and a clearer solution may yet be found.

Some 200 people attended the Pikes Peak region community dialogue at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, according to Gazette reporter Jesse Byrnes. The conversation focused on mental health challenges and opportunities for military veterans, youth and those living in poverty or difficult family situations.

Some of the action plans members proposed in the Springs meeting included the creation of a food truck model for delivery of mental health services, petitioning to use state marijuana tax revenue for mental health education and utilizing vacant school buildings for transitional housing for people suffering from mental health issues, Byrnes reported.

Several attendees mentioned resources for basic wellness and emergency support, but identified the need for a “continuum of care,” such as housing for those undergoing treatment.

“That’s what we’re missing here, that transition,” said Alison Gerbig, a veteran support specialist with Rocky Mountain Human Services, who has worked with other nonprofits locally. She said those suffering from mental illness need a place to be monitored while they heal.

The April 5 discussions were the second in a series of three. The final statewide gatherings will be held next month, at which time each city is expected to put forward  specific recommendations for funded community action plans. Glenwood Springs was also part of the April 5 mix.

“When people think of Colorado and mental health, they think of some horrific tragedies,” Diane Mulligan told the group in Denver. She is the leader of Seeking Community Solutions Colorado, itself an offshoot of the White House initiative, a National Dialogue on Mental Health.

But perceptions can be changed, Mulligan said. “I’ll be damned if Colorado isn’t going to lead the way.”

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