Mental health care maladies
FRISCO – “If it were not for the financial assistance Colorado West Mental Health has provided to enable me to work with (a counselor), I might not be here to write this letter.”Through Colorado West Mental Health’s scholarship program, Robert was able to receive treatment and write a letter of thanks to the nonprofit.If Robert (not his real name) had to rely on state and federal funding, he might not have gotten help for depression. State and federal funding helps people receive treatment, but in the last three years, Colorado has reduced its funding of public mental health and substance abuse by 30 percent.Robert lost his job and needed to see a therapist to resolve what he calls “substantial past and present issues.” He wrote a letter to Colorado West Mental Health asking for scholarship money to pay for treatment while he worked on straightening out his finances, and Colorado West accepted him.”I have made progress in my life outlook,” he wrote in his thank-you letter to Colorado West. “I have a lot to learn about myself still, and I’m very ready to work at making myself a better, more positive person, with the tools Colorado West has provided. My financial struggle is heavier than ever before, and I am very thankful for the scholarship provided.”Without this help, I may have lost everything. I have learned … things will never be so bad that I should just give up. I am understanding methods of problem solving and conflict resolution. This has kept my relationship with everyone from fading away. I need to continue my work with Colorado West to ensure I make a full recovery.”
Trying to ignore mental illness doesn’t work.When people don’t receive adequate treatment for substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, their symptoms worsen, often causing them to end up in emergency services such as jail or the emergency room, said Mike McCormick, division director of Colorado West Mental Health.Many people don’t get treatment because they can’t afford to.”Eventually taxpayers have to pay for these people one way or the other,” McCormick said. “We could probably prevent them from going into more expensive services if the funding was better provided.”Admission to emergency rooms for mental health and substance abuse issues increased 83 percent in the past three years, said Don Myers of Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver. “The majority of these cases could have been treated much less expensively in community treatment centers,” Myers said.
Colorado ranks last nationwide for funding substance abuse education and prevention. It ranks 31 out of 50 in mental health funding, McCormick said.”We’d rather criminalize substance abuse, which is a more expensive avenue,” McCormick said.It costs nearly five times more to keep someone in jail at $65 a day than at a community treatment center such as Boulder’s PACE program, which averages $14 a day.Living in a mountain resort area that attracts a young, transient population promoteschemical use, which adds to the number of people who need treatment in Summit County.Annual state funding covers six months worth of treatment Colorado West provides. As a result, the private nonprofit gave away $2.6 million of services throughout the 10 counties it serves. In Summit County, it served 883 clients from July 2003 to June 2004; 208 were mentally ill; 234 had mental health issues that were not severe enough to categorize as mental illness; and 441 suffered from substance abuse, McCormick said.”The funding cuts don’t cause us to turn away any clients, but the number of fee-reduced clients we serve puts of further into a budget deficit,” said Sarah Pokorny, program director.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from anything from car accidents to wars or abuse in childhood, is the most common diagnosis Colorado West treats in Summit County after substance abuse. Bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and personality disorders are also common, Pokorny said.Patients usually need a minimum of six sessions, with weekly, then monthly follow-ups. When they require hospitalization, the situation becomes dire. The state hospital in Pueblo only offers 17 general psychiatric beds, which are usually full.Colorado West is compensating for the loss in funding by implementing tele-medicine, which allows psychiatrists to see patients over a live television rather than traveling to various counties. McCormick hopes to expand the service to Summit County within a year or so. He wants to create a crisis center where people could stay locally and is trying to start a new facility in the County Building next to the Community Care Clinic. Colorado West also is working with the Community Care Clinic, social services, the probation department and other human service agencies to share psychiatric, treatment and medication-related services.”We must make adjustments to the system. We’re reaching a crisis point,” said Major Gary Darling, a Larimer County sheriff’s officer and member of the 18-organization Colorado Mental Health and Substance Abuse Summit.According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the funding cuts affect nearly 700,000 people who cannot afford mental health treatment, and Colorado is one of only three states in which Medicaid doesn’t pay for substance abuse care. Plus, more employers are cutting mental health benefits for their employees.Locally, The Summit Foundation provides grant money, and residents have made donations to Colorado West. Interested community members may help not only financially but also by joining an advisory council to help plan how to better serve patients. For more information, call Colorado West at (970) 668-3478.
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