Efforts are underway to improve mental health care in Colorado, but there’s a long road ahead

Mental shift

Original Article Published on csindy.com

 

In November, Colorado voters will have a chance to raise the tax on cigarettes by $1.75 per pack.

Initiative 143, which would also raise taxes on other nicotine products by 22 percent, is projected to bring in about $315 million in its first year, money that would flow to smoking cessation programs, campaigns to keep kids from lighting up, and research into the variety of diseases that nicotine causes. It also would be one of the largest funding sources in recent memory for mental health programs.

A portion of the tax is dedicated to veteran programs, including help for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, while another portion is set aside for children’s mental health care, including adding prevention, early intervention and treatment programs.

Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, says he’s excited about the tens of millions that could flow to those programs, particularly dollars for mental health care in schools. The former Colorado Speaker of the House explains that half of mental illnesses show symptoms by age 14, while three-fourths show symptoms by 24. But for young people, he says there’s an average gap of eight to 10 years between when mental health symptoms first appear and when the illness is actually treated. If treatment is offered in schools, rather than at an outside clinic, he says kids are far more likely to get treatment.

But Romanoff says that getting Initiative 143 passed is just one challenge for mental health advocates, who see flaws throughout the system, whether it’s identifying mental illness, keeping the mentally ill out of jails or helping those with the most severe diseases live healthy lives.

Mental Health Colorado is in the midst of its “Conversation with Colorado,” eight public meetings across the state on mental health care.

More than 350 people have filled out a survey at the first six of those meetings, including 55 people from Colorado Springs. While not representative samples, the surveys are startling. Only 4 percent statewide say they are very satisfied with mental health services in their community, and in the Springs it’s only 2 percent. Likewise, 57 percent statewide are “not satisfied” with services available, while 72 percent say that in Colorado Springs.

The survey found that the biggest barriers to getting mental health care are cost and difficulty getting an appointment. But stigma also played a role: Forty-nine percent are concerned about what might happen should someone find out they have a mental illness.

“It carries a scarlet letter,” Romanoff says of mental illness, “and we’ve got to figure out a way to combat that.”

 

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