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.

U.S. Veterans face long waits times, paperwork hassles, confusing rules on care options, and shrinking number of provider options when it comes to getting the mental health care they need. 

Since The Gazette's year-long investigative series on mental health care in Colorado began in April, dozens of readers have gotten in touch to share personal accounts about living with a mood disorder or mental illness, and the challenges of accessing treatment for themselves or a loved one.