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New Summit Rallies Community around Colorado Health and Wellness

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NSM Faculty/Staff Report

Compelling conversations and community commitment follow inaugural behavioral health summit in Denver

Press Release
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On October 21-24, the inaugural Colorado Behavioral Health and Wellness Summit attracted more than 500 participants who took part in the nearly 40 workshops and trainings on the University of Denver campus. The extensive response and participation demonstrated the interest, need and concern for the health and well-being of all in Colorado.

State leaders were in attendance to add their perspectives to meaningful discussions including Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera along with Reps. Leslie Herod and Colin Larson, and Michelle Barnes, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

logo for colorado behavioral health and wellness summit

"Mental health is a growing issue in Colorado, and convenings like this are critical to bringing new ideas and support to the center of the conversation. Congrats to the visionary leaders who organized this gathering. Our state needs opportunities like this to come together and learn from each other," said Barnes.

Mental health issues and substance use continue to challenge good health and well-being in Colorado and across the U.S. 

"By nearly every metric – suicide rate, the prevalence of mental health issues, vaping and deaths from drug overdoses – our state is in crisis," said Steven Haden from the Mental Health Center of Denver and Envision:You, a statewide LGBTQ+ mental health initiative.

According to a 2019 report from Mental Health America, it's estimated that about 20% of Colorado's adult population (roughly 832,000 people) is living with a mental health condition, and more than 600,000 of that group are not being treated for their illness. The report goes on to say that some 67,000 Coloradans say they needed treatment for drug or alcohol use in the past twelve months but did not receive it. 

In the past month, it was reported that the youth suicide rate in the state is up 58% from 2016, the greatest spike seen in any state in the U.S. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Colorado's youth and young adults. 

"Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected and prevent the bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue," added Haden.

According to Lt. Gov. Primavera, "Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable care. But too many Coloradans aren't able to get the behavioral health services they need. There is a lot of work being done around mental health services in Colorado, but still a lot left to do. We remain committed to ensuring that all Coloradans have the tools they need to live happy, healthy lives."

The behavioral health concerns in Colorado and the U.S. have been recognized by community healthcare providers, institutions and policymakers. 

"We realize that we have a long way to go in terms of making mental health and substance use treatment available and accessible to everyone in Colorado," said Dr. Nancy Lorenzon, professor of biology at the University of Denver.

"In ten years, I envision a Colorado where those in crisis can get help. A Colorado where there are no waitlists, where all schools provide mental health treatment and where no one is stigmatized for asking for help," said Rep. Herod. "A place where LGBTQ individuals don't have to struggle in silence for fear of harassment or discriminatory care. The success of this summit shows that I'm not alone in thinking this is possible."

During the summit, clinicians, educators, students, policymakers and community members came together to address these critical health concerns. Participants engaged to break down silos statewide and bridge the gaps in communication and collaboration in order to discover new tools and resources, discuss practical strategies for change and connect with colleagues and experts. 

The opening night and 16 additional workshops and presentations will be offered as podcasts through Emergency Medical Minute to expand the reach and impact of the summit. 

"We hope this community collaboration will foster an increased focus on tackling these difficult issues," said Lorenzon.