For 70 years, Mental Health Colorado has prioritized the health and well-being of Coloradans across the lifespan by improving access to and quality of care, supports and services while fighting against policies that perpetuate disparities and increase the potential harms of substance use. Our state is in the midst of a serious health crisis and we have to respond in a timely manner to provide immediate relief to Coloradans who are suffering and need our support.
But in order to promote healthier minds across the lifespan for generations to come, we must shift and broaden our approach today to transform the health and well-being of our communities.
Most of us have experienced watching a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a coworker who hit a rough patch with mental health or substance use and struggle to obtain support and find the right resources to get back on track. As too many of us know, this can be a slippery slope that upends a person’s life and creates a downward spiral that becomes increasingly difficult to reverse. This can include becoming isolated from one’s friends and family, experiencing a decline in physical health, developing a substance use condition, losing a job, becoming unhoused, ending up in jail, or worse.
Heartbreakingly, Colorado has a significant population of adults who are in the midst of these kinds of crises, and a system that is woefully ill-equipped to care for them. According to our parent organization Mental Health America’s 2023 State of Mental Health in America Report, Colorado ranked 45 out of 51 for adult mental health, meaning we have some of the highest prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care. A staggering 6% of Colorado adults are having serious thoughts of suicide, and over 34% of Colorado adults with mental illness reported being unable to receive the care they needed, whether due to cost, unavailability of appointments, or provider incompetence.
We have failed to create a society that prioritizes the health and well-being of every community member and gives them the tools they need to thrive from childhood into old age.
Given this unfortunate reality, we have rightly focused much of our work and resources on efforts like expanding mental health bed capacity and mending our broken mental health safety net so that fewer of these Coloradans slip through the cracks.
But the fact that so much of our focus is on meeting the unmet needs of Coloradans who are already experiencing a crisis emphasizes how we have already failed. We have failed to create a society that prioritizes the health and well-being of every community member and gives them the tools they need to thrive from childhood into old age. And as a result, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of ever-growing need and not enough resources. And if we don’t get to the root causes of our increasingly unhealthy society, this cycle is doomed to continue.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In order to shift this lethal dynamic, we must begin to adopt a holistic view of human well-being that looks at the care of the whole person, not just one or another aspect of an emergent health need, through all stages of life. This means increasing access to housing, making health care more affordable, fostering more connection within our communities, providing opportunities for Coloradans to earn a good life, fighting discrimination, and so much more. And much of this must take place at a young age so that we can nurture younger generations before they become unhealthy adults.
We must invest upfront in communities that prioritize human health and well-being — not just spend reactively when people are already ill and in crisis. By focusing on prevention and promoting healthier minds across the lifespan starting at square one, we can make a huge impact on the health of future generations and avoid the cycle of failure in which we find ourselves now, where Coloradans slip through the cracks because we didn’t support them sooner.
There are no easy solutions to address the effect of the pandemic, the prevalence of increasingly deadly drugs, social media, racism, bullying, and gun violence on our kids. But we can at least begin to reorient our thinking and start building a healthier world.
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