Knowing whom to call or where to go for mental health care can be daunting and overwhelming.
“When you are mentally ill,” said William Henricks, CEO of AllHealth Network, which provides mental health services to Arapahoe and Douglas counties, “it is very difficult to connect the dots.”
Fragmentation of mental health services is an obstacle everywhere, Henricks said, even within the two counties in AllHealth’s network. That means healthcare providers are available, but they aren’t working together to make treatment more accessible to and easier for the patient. An example is a therapist who doesn’t accept insurance and doesn’t know where to refer a patient. Or when a primary care doctor makes a referral but doesn’t follow up with the patient.
“We need to work together, collaboratively,” Henricks said. “The challenges are so big that no one organization can do it on its own.”
Mental health treatment can include therapy, hospitalization, case management, support groups and alternative medicine, according to Mental Health America. Within those categories are specialists, ranging from a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor to a family therapist to a licensed professional counselor.
A major challenge complicating the fractured service structure is a shortage of psychologists in Colorado and across the country, said Dr. Kaan Ozbayrak, chief medical officer at AllHealth Network.
For every 1,000 residents in Colorado, there is less than one behavioral health employee, according to numbers provided by Mental Health Colorado, a mental health advocacy organization. Behavioral health employees include clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
“We do not have enough workers to take care of everyone that needs us,” Ozbayrak said.
AllHealth is piloting a service in the next couple of months that would allow primary care doctors to refer patients to one of AllHealth’s nine locations that provide behavioral health therapy and counseling services for all ages.
“We have to make it easier for people to access care when they need help,” Henricks said.
For Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of the advocacy organization Mental Health Colorado, integrating mental health care and primary care in one place rather than separating the two makes sense.
“Right now you go to one place to treat your body and another place to treat your head,” Romanoff said. “But it turns out your body is connected to your head.”
The Douglas County Mental Health Initiative, a partnership of 37 county organizations from government to private to faith-based entities, has been working since its inception in 2014 to rally local public health agencies to work more closely with each other so that individuals can be assured of a continuum of care.
The initiative is working to create awareness about the different types of services available in the community and provide other resources for needs such as employment, health and housing.
The goal is to provide coordination for people with mental illness, said Anne Mosbach, coordinator of the mental health initiative. “It’s reaching out to people to make sure that they are getting connected.”