We are in this together

Colorado Springs artist Mike Fudge, left on sissor lift, paints a mural with helpers on the side of the Cottonwood Center for the Arts Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 17, 2017, with a message to help eliminate the stigma around mental health. The project, the fourth in the United States, is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. Fudge said he came up with nearly 100 phrases before settling on "We are in this together." Ultimately, he thought about what he would want someone struggling with depression to know. "It wasn't too hard to think about what I'd want to say to a friend," Fudge said. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Here’s what experts say could improve Colorado’s mental health care system:

Increase mental health workforce

Increasing the number of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and addiction counselors across El Paso County — as well as Colorado — is a key step that several health experts said needs to happen to adequately address the region’s behavioral health needs. One estimate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggested the state needs at least 131 more practitioners, and many advocates say even more are needed.

Improve insurance coverage

Health policy experts say more could be done to ensure insurers are following state and federal parity laws, which aim to ensure that behavioral care is covered at the same levels as physical care. State Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation, HB 19-1269, in late March that aims to bolster those protections, increase transparency and hold insurers more accountable.

Reduce stigma

Over and over, mental health experts said stigma remains a major barrier to care, and the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey by the Colorado Health Institute found one in five people who didn’t get the mental health care they needed cited stigma as a reason. The issue is even worse for people battling a substance use disorder, with more than two in five citing it as a reason for not getting care.

More psychiatric beds, especially for children

Across Colorado, too few psychiatric beds exist to meet demand. The issue is especially acute for parents seeking help for their children or teenagers — forcing them to travel hours to find an open bed for short-term stays or out of the state for longer-term treatment.

Streamline mental health care services

Funding streams for mental health care cut across myriad local, state and federal agencies — making meaningful change difficult to achieve. At the state level, for example, mental health funding sources include the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Several mental health advocates cited the balkanized nature of Colorado's mental health system as a barrier to any possible reforms.

Jakob Rodgers and Stephanie Earls, The Gazette

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to remove any mentions of actions that have not been taken by the state to address mental health.

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