About the series: This is a yearlong series of stories about Colorado’s broken mental health care system. A team of Gazette journalists is investigating the gaps in care for children, for veterans, for the community at large. We’ll be focusing on solutions that might come as state officials and community leaders sharpen their focus on what for many is a vicious cycle of despair and ruin.

This is the first in a yearlong series of stories about Colorado’s broken mental health care system. It’s estimated that about 20% of Colorado’s adult population is living with some kind of mental health condition, according to a 2019 report from Mental Health America. 

More than 4,000 Colorado children each year have an ongoing behavioral health condition or serious emotional disturbance that requires  inpatient or residential treatment, according to Children’s Hospital Colorado, one of the state’s largest pediatric health care providers.

Mentally ill people are wasting away in Colorado jails and crowding the state’s prisons, paving the way for disasters by making correctional workers de-facto practitioners in what critics say is perhaps the worst possible environment to treat psychiatric issues.

The unabated pace of mental health emergencies strains public agencies and fails people in need, who are at risk of being drawn into a well-worn cycle — delivered to frantic emergency rooms, where follow-up care is scant, or locked up in jail, where their problems compound.

Stigma, insurance woes, cost and lack of providers are the top barriers for seeking mental health care as an estimated 832,000 people in Colorado have some kind of mental health condition, a Mental Health America report found, and nearly 450,000 of them aren’t being treated.

When they’re active duty, members of the U.S. military have access to some of the best mental health care in the country. But the minute those warriors step back into the civilian world, things often fall apart.

The Gazette’s yearlong investigative series on mental health care in Colorado began in April. Since then, dozens of readers have shared personal accounts about living with a mood disorder or mental illness and the challenges of accessing treatment. 

With no access to care, anxiety, depression and addiction stalk rural Coloradans. 

People with mental health concerns, seeking help, often turn to a faith leader first, according to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. But in doing so, they may not find what they need.

Public school districts statewide and in the Pikes Peak region need to hire thousands of counselors and other mental health professionals to meet national staffing standards, according to a Gazette analysis of data from a 2019 Mental Health Colorado report.

Deep within the Cook County jail, white-walled dormitories have replaced steel-barred cells. In a division of the jail known as the Residential Treatment Unit, jailers are trained to act more like therapists than guards. Inmates are considered patients, and a licensed counselor sits as warde…

A nonprofit in Tulsa that provides hundreds of affordable housing units to people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse has earned a growing reputation for addressing mental health's many tendrils. And some people in Colorado Springs have taken notice. 

“The paradise paradox is very real,” Eagle Valley Behavioral Health Executive Director Chris Lindley said. “While the mountains are a great place to live, they are also a hard place to live. People often come to the mountains seeking a geographic solution to a nongeographic problem...”


The Gazette has complained for years about society’s irrational efforts to solve the health care crisis. Politicians and pundits talk about who should pay, who should not pay, and how we might better allocate and redistribute access to limited health care services.