Posted: February 7th, 2023

Mental health — and care options — in Colorado remain ‘distressing’ after years in survival mode

Posted in: General

Colorado no longer ranks as the worst state in the nation for the prevalence of mental illness and access to treatment for adults, a spot it held in the 2022 State of Mental Health in America report.—

The recently released 2023 report from Mental Health America places Colorado at 45th of 50 states and the District of Columbia for prevalence and access among adults. The improvement is negligible, said Vincent Atchity, president and CEO at Mental Health Colorado, an affiliate of Mental Health America. “The numbers jigger up and down for both adults and children — it’s the nature of this data,” he said. “Colorado reliably ranks down in the bottom third of the country.”

The data provides a snapshot in time and lags real time, Atchity said, noting that the 2023 report uses statistics from 2019 and 2020, which accounts for just the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the pandemic on mental health are only now fully manifesting, he said, and entering the new year, the mental health of Coloradans continues to be concerning.

“There’s still a generalized, intensified increase in levels of anxiety and depression across the board,” said Dr. Eric French, D.O., who owns Mind Spa Denver in Greenwood Village, an outpatient psychiatric and psychology clinic.

“People are still cleaning up after what happened between 2020 and 2022,” he said. “Many people hunkered down in survival mode and pressed through and are now realizing how deeply this is impacting them. It’s becoming more of a trauma situation.” And people seem uncertain about how to move forward, French said, which raises increases unease and creates a sense of hopelessness.

Anyone who’s recently sought the services of a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or counselor knows there’s an ongoing shortage of providers, said Lori Jarvis, executive director of the Colorado Springs office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. “Wait times are long, and many are not accepting new patients,” Jarvis said. Many people are waiting 30 to 60 days for an appointment, Atchity said. Even then, “You may get your foot in the door, but what are the odds of connecting with a provider who understands your circumstances and can provide you the support you need?” he asked. That’s particularly the case for LGBTQ+ people, Black, Hispanic and other people of color, rural residents and asylum seekers, Atchity said.

Coloradans also are more isolated than residents of states with denser populations, Atchity said, and access to treatment in rural areas can be nonexistent, forcing people to travel to larger cities to receive care. Despite the state’s strong economy, according to indicators such as employment, and the state’s high national rankings for the education levels of adults, “we can’t seem to close the gaps for mental health access,” he said. “It’s imperative that we create a pipeline of care,” Atchity said. “The state of mental health in Colorado is distressing.”

‘Grateful for the trend’

Youth have fared better in recent years on the State of Mental Health rankings, moving from 13th best in 2022 to 11th best in the 2023 version.

The report studied numbers of people with any mental illness, as well as those with serious thoughts of suicide, and substance use disorder in the past year. Also figured into the rankings were people who did not receive treatment for mental problems, or uninsured or had other cost-prohibitive factors and unmet needs. Colorado’s overall ranking, which takes the status of children and adults into account, shows improvement over the past few years, moving up from 47th worst nationwide in the 2021 report to 37th in 2022 to 30th in 2023. While Colorado’s numbers are “still not great, we’re grateful for the trend,” Jarvis said. New methods being employed to address the lack of providers and workforce shortage, such as using peer specialists and nurse practitioners, are helping expand services to meet the demand for treatment, she said.




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