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GUEST COLUMN: Raising awareness on mental health needs

By: Dr. Mick Pattinson
May 20, 2017 Updated: May 22, 2017 at 7:43 am
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May is Mental Health Awareness Month across our country. Believe it or not, one in four Americans experiences a diagnosable mental illness each year. That's someone in your office, your neighborhood, and, perhaps, your family. While we have come a long way to ensure that those 25 percent have accessible care, much still stands to be gained . and much could easily be lost if we do not continue to stand up for ourselves, our neighbors and our friends and family members.

Right now, our national lawmakers are deliberating on legislation and considering amendments that could alter the health care landscape. Regardless of the outcome of the American Health Care Act Bill, or future iterations, access to affordable mental health care should never be taken off the table.

I am also concerned about the stigma that continues to be associated with persons who report a mental illness and seek treatment. It unnecessarily prevents those who suffer from seeking help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 60 percent of adults in America with a mental illness did not receive services the year prior. Fifty percent of our youths did not reach out. And the Colorado Health Foundation reported that 442,000 persons in 2015 did not receive mental health care. These stats are unacceptable. We can do better. Please notice I wrote "we."

That's not to say we haven't made progress, some of which I will highlight below. But let's be candid: Our hometown has faced some challenging times in the past year. There have been alarming trends in youth suicides as well as increases in opioid, heroin and alcohol use across several ZIP codes and demographics. As a community, we have to be available with open arms and adequate resources.

To better serve increasing behavioral health needs in northern Colorado Springs, a new Walk-in Crisis Center will open this summer at the Penrose-St. Francis Medical Center Campus, at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard. Complementing the community's first Walk-in Crisis Center, at 115 S. Parkside Drive, this new facility will provide 24/7 crisis mental health services. Suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, bullying and just tough times are some of the reasons to use the center, which offers care at no cost.

A visit to the Walk-in Crisis Center typically lasts one to two hours in a comfortable living room environment. An outpatient care component will provide individual and family counseling across the lifespan, child and adult ages, and provide continued care to prevent crises.

The Walk-in Crisis Centers are part of the greater Colorado Crisis Services initiative that was established by the governor of Colorado. It also includes a Crisis Response Team (CRT). These two three-person teams, consisting of a Colorado Springs Police Department officer, Colorado Springs Fire Department medical provider and a licensed clinician respond to 911 calls.

Before the CRT, the data showed us that 50 percent of 911 calls in Colorado Springs were categorized as nonurgent situations and mostly mental health-related.

As a result, police officers saw extended time on location, repetitive calls from the same individuals, and were unprepared for some of the challenges that were presented by mental health sufferers. From December 2014 to January 2017, the CRT responded to 3,557 calls. Half of these calls were treated in place. A quarter were transported to the Walk-in Crisis Center. Less than 15 percent ended up in the emergency room.

The numbers are remarkable. The teamwork is truly inspiring. Without the tireless dedication of our police and fire departments, alongside clinicians, our emergency rooms and first responders would not be free to treat those who are truly in need of their services.

I would like to encourage readers to learn more about improvements in health care locally and available resources by joining us in watching the Sky Sox play the Iowa Cubs for "Home Runs for Mental Health" night, Friday, June 9. This is a unique opportunity for people to help raise our collective awareness of mental health challenges and opportunities while enjoying an evening at the ballpark. Community mental health providers (AspenPointe, Peak View Behavioral Health and Cedar Springs) will have representatives on-site to answer questions and provide information on available services.

Again, one in four Americans will experience a mental illness this year. Take note of how many people you encounter today. A quarter of those might not show it, but they are suffering. A simple gesture, a smile, a "How are you doing?" can go a long way in making them feel better. Others, however, will likely need professional care. If you or someone you know is that person, please call 1-844-493-8255, Text "TALK" to 38255 or visit our Walk-in Center. Together, we can help one another live a full and prosperous life.

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Dr. Mick Pattinson is the CEO and president of AspenPointe.

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