Andrew Keller, Ph.D., a founding partner of TriWest Group, is the lead author of "The Status of Mental Health Care in Colorado (2003)" and "The Status of Behavioral Health Care in Colorado (2011)." A clinical psychologist, Keller helps behavioral health and human services systems across the country develop, expand and fund effective services.
With the holiday season in full swing, we're bombarded with images of happy families coming together to celebrate the season. But, for many the holidays are a time for stress, depression and loneliness. In fact, the number of Coloradans in need of mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) care during the holidays and throughout the year may surprise you.
Each year, three in 10 Coloradans (1.5 million people) need mental health or SUD treatment. Approximately 450,000 of these people have a severe need. These numbers are highlighted in a report that was released on Dec. 7 by Advancing Colorado's Mental Health Care (ACMHC). Titled "The Status of Behavioral Health Care in Colorado," the report is the most comprehensive assessment of the state's mental health and SUD systems to be published in almost a decade.
In 2003, a group of eight Colorado foundations jointly funded "The Status of Mental Health Care in Colorado." This groundbreaking report published information about the state's many fragmented and underfunded systems for providing mental health services. In response, the Caring for Colorado Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, and The Denver Foundation partnered to form ACMHC. The $4.25 million project supported six community collaboratives over five years – bringing together mental health care providers, human services agencies and other local partners to address the tremendous needs detailed in the 2003 report.
Other key findings of the 2011 report include:
There are too few providers with specialized skills willing to serve Coloradans with the most complex needs, given current reimbursement rates and gaps in specialized training. As a result, these people are accessing services through multiple systems, too often receiving ineffective, uncoordinated care and driving up overall health care costs.
There is a critical shortage of providers in rural and frontier areas of the state. Eighty-two percent of practicing psychiatrists, 86 percent of child psychiatrists, and essentially all psychiatrists specializing in SUD treatment and geriatrics practice in Denver and Colorado Springs.
Specific populations – including sexual minority groups, veterans, and Coloradans of color – struggle to access mental health/SUD care. When they do receive care, Coloradans of color are disproportionately served in correctional settings.
Colorado has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the country.
Colorado is considered a leader in providing behavioral health care in primary care (connecting the head to the body) settings, which improves outcomes and cuts costs.
In addition to seven observations of behavioral health care, the report offered several recommendations for stakeholders to consider.
While Colorado has taken steps to improve behavioral health delivery over the past decade, we must focus on redeployment of current resources, as well as future investments as the economy recovers. This is absolutely necessary to help rein in costs and improve outcomes for the 1.5 million Coloradans who need treatment each year.
Visit www.ColoradoMentalHealth.org to read the full "Status of Behavioral Health Care in Colorado" report.