By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4) – According to the nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, more than a million Coloradans have a mental health or substance use disorder and most go without treatment. This election advocates are urging candidates for the state Legislature to take a stand on mental health.
That’s why they’re holding candidate forums to quiz those running for the state House and Senate about their views on mental health issues and how to solve them. Advocates say they need funding and a change in focus.
“I am living a good life in recovery,” said Jennifer Hill.
But it has been a long time getting there for the 52-year-old. Hill says at age 15 she spent a year in a psychiatric hospital battling major depression and an eating disorder. Hill struggled with drugs and alcohol. In her 20s she was homeless and hanging around Denver’s 16th Street Mall and living in a car. She was admitted to more hospitals, involuntarily.
“How did you survive?” asked CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
“Day to day, I somehow found hope,” said Hill.
These days Hill helps others find hope at the nonprofit Colorado Mental Wellness Network. She is the program director, providing recovery support services.
“The best thing is that we share the hope that recovery is possible and probable,” said Hill.
And Hill is an advocate for change.
“Integrated care where we don’t cut off the head from the body and we treat the whole person,” said Hill.
According to the nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, one in four Coloradans experiences a mental health or substance use disorder but only 40 percent get the treatment they need.
“We wouldn’t accept that when it comes, say, to cancer. If only 40 percent of Americans with cancer got treatment we would march on Washington,” said Andrew Romanoff, President of Mental Health Colorado.
Romanoff says the state has to enforce the Parity law requiring insurance companies to cover mental health treatment no less extensive then coverage for physical illness. And he wants the mental health battle to turn to prevention.
“Better screening, earlier intervention, effective and timely treatment … those are key,” said Romanoff.
Advocates for mental health care are pushing for passage of Amendment 72 in November. It would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.75. Of the $315 million it’s expected to generate, $34 million would be dedicated to expand access to youth behavioral health services.
To find out more about the candidate forums go to mentalhealthcolorado.org.
For Colorado Mental Wellness Network go to coloradomentalwellnessnetwork.org.