On the 24th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting, the Colorado Health Institute (CHI) presented a series of solutions to strengthen the youth mental health ecosystem.
Through analysis of key barriers to mental health and engagement with youth, parents, community and school advocacy groups and policy opinion leaders, CHI developed a report that was shared at a webinar Thursday.
Report outlines a plan to advance the youth mental health workforce, community crisis response and infrastructure through upstream, equitable, culturally competent, timely, sustainable and evidence-based actions .
One of the solutions identified is the creation of culturally safe spaces in schools and communities.
“Schools, communities and philanthropic organizations have the opportunity to work together to create these spaces for students who will de-stigmatize mental health, culturally affirm themselves and can offer services like peer support (and) mentorship , and allow young people to explore topics like leadership, identity and belonging,” said Kimberly Phu, CHI policy analyst involved in the project.
Phu pointed to a program run by Denver Indian Health and Family Services that provides cultural and traditional activities to native youth in the metro area. The program has resulted in improved mental well-being for its youth population.
The report also outlined solutions to improve trauma-informed, family-centered programming and youth-specific crisis response, highlighting opportunities to equitably improve the ecosystem through philanthropic investments and partnerships with community groups.
“One of the things we offer at the Center for African American Health for the Black community specifically in Denver metro areas (is access to) free therapy sessions through the Collaborative Color Therapistssaid Alan Harmon, community resource navigator at the Center for African American Health. “(The collaboration) is an opportunity for individuals to get 15 free sessions and for families to get 20 free counseling sessions (with) therapists who are like them and understand cultural responses and how culturally different we are. .”
During a visit to Colorado Children’s Hospital in MarchU.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy joined leaders from across the state in a discussion on how to address the state’s youth mental health crisis. Murthy posted a Opinion on the protection of the mental health of young people in 2021, which described the pandemic’s unprecedented mental health impacts on American youth and families, and offered institutional recommendations to improve youth mental health.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Colorado Youth and Young Adults. Almost one in five Colorado youths (18.5%) reported poor mental health in 2021, double the rate seen in 2017. Nearly 40% of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless over a period of two weeks or more, which prevented them from going about their normal activities. Young people who participated in the research drew attention to the fact that generational trauma is not dealt with within their own families.
“We are surrounded by adults who don’t take care of their mental health and so we have learned not to take care of our mental health,” said an unidentified high school student who participated in CHI’s research. “Seeing our families deal with this without getting mental health help makes young people think they can get by without mental health help.”
The state legislature is considering several measures that address access to mental health. Senate Bill 002 would allow the state to seek federal approval for Medicaid reimbursement for community health workers. Advocates are calling for flexibility in Medicaid reimbursement to cover community behavioral health workers, who they say play an important role in accessing care in Colorado.
House Bill 1200 would create a behavioral health pilot program that offers vouchers to people who were unable to access a safety net provider during a behavioral health crisis to fund their treatment through a private provider. The program would be administered by regional behavioral health service organizations under the supervision of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA).
The bill would authorize the BHA to develop a family entry form that people close to the person in crisis can fill out on their behalf. All state behavioral health entities would need to accept these forms.
HB 1003 would allow school districts to opt in to organizing mental health assessments for students in grades 6-12. Sponsors of HB 1003 say HIPAA-protected school assessments are voluntary and could connect more students who need therapy to free sessions through the “I count” program or those available through their health plans.
CHI released an earlier report on supporting the mental health system through the implementation of statewide programs universal school-based mental health screenings.
In an interview with State of Reform, CHI’s Director of Behavioral Health Policy Analysis, Emily Johnson, said that HB 1003 is very much in line with the goals outlined in this report.
“Our thinking about the statewide universal mental health screening model correlates it with how, probably, when we were kids, our vision and hearing were tested in schools,” Johnson said. “Schools are a great place to reach children in terms of initial screenings because most children go to school. And so when we talk about doing that universally across the state, it’s really just because it’s the best place to cross paths with the young population. It’s not because if a school doesn’t, the whole infrastructure collapses.
Johnson noted that without solutions to address ecosystem infrastructure and workforce limitations, providing care and services to support school assessments would be difficult.
She highlighted the pioneering efforts of Partners for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH), a partnership between Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado School of Medicine to improve the mental health of young people in Colorado. In addition to providing mental health training and suicide prevention workshops in schools, PCMH has trained a Youth Mental Health Committee (YCMH) where students guide their peers and mental health professionals on issues and perceptions surrounding youth mental health.
“(PCMH does) a lot of youth-led engagement,” Johnson said. “The way they approach this is particularly impactful and effective because they have very involved adult guidance throughout the process, so they help (young people) to set budgets and measure the realism in them. (YCMH) is a youth-led youth counselor program that follows a number of best practices in youth engagement and the mental health systems it supports.
The reason I bring this up is not only because I like their approach in terms of engaging participants, but also their focus on upstream interventions like, how to make sure people have opportunities to connect to each other? And how do you make sure that people find ways to control themselves when it comes to (things like) social media influence? »