Two months before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary got the nation talking about mental health care, about 110 people got together to talk about mental health care in the Pikes Peak region.
They talked about the shortage of psychiatrists in the region. About a dearth of crisis intervention services and high suicide rates in El Paso County. About the doggedly persistent stigma around mental health that keeps people from seeking treatment – or even acknowledging that they or someone they know struggles with a mental illness.
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And they vowed to do something about it.
“We asked them not only to dream about solutions, but to bring together people who would make those solutions happen,” said Carol Bruce-Fritz, executive director of the Community Health Partnership in Colorado Springs, which pulled the Behavioral & Mental Health Summit together.
Bruce-Fritz said the need for the summit grew out of the many comments the Community Health Partnership consistently heard about mental health issues in the region as its members went about their work.
“Everywhere we went, people were concerned about mental health issues,” she said. “So it was kind of that everybody kept coming together and saying we have to do something together as a community.”
She contacted what she calls the “usual suspects” of area health providers, and ended up with a roster of well-known names to be sponsors: AspenPointe, Cedar Springs Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Peak View Behavioral Healthcare, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and Rocky Mountain Health Care Services.
But participation spread well beyond those groups. There were representatives from schools, support groups and others with a stake working toward improved mental health services.
Before the summit took place Oct. 5, a survey was sent out to people in a variety of fields, including health care, the military and non-governmental humane services, to identify gaps in mental health services.
“One was a lack of professionals; we have a real shortage of psychiatrists in the community,” Bruce-Fritz said.
Other gaps were identified for various populations, including active duty military, veterans and their families, who, judging from the results, could still use more resources for inpatient and outpatient substance abuse services, and inpatient mental health services.
The survey also identified major access barriers, including the biggest one: people who lack insurance or money to pay for mental health treatment.
By the end of the summit, five work groups had been created and charged with delving into their specific issues and coming back with solutions to present at the next summit in April.
“These are not conferences,” Bruce-Fritz said. “These are not opportunities to come together and talk about issues. They are about action, because we keep talking about these things over and over, but we seem to have a problem getting into community solutions.”