Building Hope reflects on successes during the pandemic |

Building Hope reflects on successes during the pandemic

Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope, discusses mental health care in Summit County on Sept. 17, 2019. Building Hope is a nonprofit organization in Summit County that works to promote better mental health.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Mental health was at the forefront of everyone’s minds as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Summit County, in particular for those at Building Hope, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a better mental health system, reducing stigma and improving access to mental health resources.

Building Hope wasn’t slowed down by the pandemic. At the Breckenridge Town Council work session Tuesday, July 27, Executive Director Jennifer McAtamney presented a summary of the organization’s work over the last year and a half.

“It is because of the community support prior to the pandemic, back in 2017 (and) 2018 when this community came together and decided that they were going to do something about mental health, that we were able to activate the way we were over the last year,” McAtamney said.

One of the organization’s main goals over the past year was to spread the messages that “we’re all imperfect together,” and “it’s OK not to be OK.” Building Hope looked to reduce the stigma around mental illness by spreading those ideas and telling the stories of locals who have made it through their own challenges.

McAtamney said scientifically, storytelling is one of the best ways to reduce stigma, a concept that lead to the Faces of Hope campaign.

“One of the most important messages is no matter how hard it gets — whether it’s substance use, whether it’s severe depression, whether it’s suicidality — that there is hope,” McAtamney said.

Due to the pandemic, McAtamney said the county started seeing more people express anxiety about returning to work. To help support those folks, Building Hope connected larger cohorts of the workforce with therapists for informal, nonclinical group conversations that allowed them to talk about what they were feeling. Called Reflect and Connect Cafes, these conversations served more than 40 organizations and over 900 people across 340 virtual events, according to McAtamney.

She said the content of these conversations evolved throughout the pandemic, initially focusing around the stress of returning to work and shifting to topics like how people are treated in the workplace.

McAtamney also emphasized how important it is to have these difficult conversations around mental health for youth in the community. Building Hope created additional campaigns and resources this year for kids and teens, and the group worked with the school district on direct referrals.

Building Hope is able to directly support those in need of mental health care through its scholarship program, which provides up to 12 free therapy sessions. Working with the school district, the organization provided more than 100 scholarships to kids in the county last year.

“Over 90% of people who experience some kind of mental health challenge recover from it when they get the right interventions,” McAtamney said. “And because of the work we’re doing in this community, those interventions are happening.”

The scholarship program has allowed Building Hope to build a network of accessible therapists. It now has more than 70 therapists who will accept a Building Hope scholarship as payment. The organization issued 611 scholarships last year.

“When someone wants therapy, at $100-a-week-plus, it is unaffordable for most people that live here, even affluent people,” McAtamney said. “This scholarship really makes sure that people are able to get the care they need.”

Tim Casey, Building Hope’s founder, said improving immediate access to therapy was one of the goals when starting the organization, which has been possible thanks to the community’s support.

“We’ve come so far, and now you can literally get almost immediate access,” Casey said. “Before it would be a couple weeks potentially. If we accomplished anything, it was access to therapy.”

Building Hope also made efforts to improve its ability to work with insurance companies. McAtamney said a barrier for many therapists is billing because one person may be doing all the work at a private practice.

Building Hope contracted with a behavioral health billing company to help local therapists get credentialed to accept third-party payments. McAtamney said 40 of Building Hope’s therapists accept insurance when initially only six were able to.

“We couldn’t do it without the community,” McAtamney said to council. “It’s really your commitment as a community that has helped us be so successful and to be able to do the work that we’re doing.”

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