Here are steps experts say could help reduce barriers to care for those with mental illnesses:

Increase mental health workforce

More psychiatrists, as well as more psychologists, therapists and addiction counselors, are needed across El Paso County and elsewhere. A greater use of psychiatric nurse practitioners is helping to fill the gap caused by a lack of psychiatrists, some say.

Improve insurance coverage

Despite parity laws designed to make certain that insurers cover behavioral health at the same level as physical care, issues remain. House Bill 19-1269, signed into law recently by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, requires the state insurance commissioner to disallow a carrier's requested rate increase if there is a failure to demonstrate compliance with the federal parity law.

Reduce stigma

Stigma surrounding mental illness remains a major barrier to care. “The stigma, the fear, those are huge things to overcome for people who are in a world that’s scary anyway,” says Bridget Ballard-Cummins, a Colorado Springs psychotherapist. “That’s where education comes into play. It’s so important that people understand about these disorders.”

Focus on preventive care

More emphasis on preventive care, such as school education programs and greater use of mental health screenings, could reduce the number of people in crisis later, experts say. “We have a reactive system,” says Connie Jo Donahue, who has two sons with mental illnesses. “We need a proactive one.

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