Forum looks for ways to expand mental health treatment access

Community Reach sponsors luncheon to discuss programs, pitfalls in behavioral health

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/5/19

A group of Adams County residents and leaders considered what barriers keep people from seeking mental health treatment at a Nov. 22 luncheon. The Community Reach Center luncheon brought about 70 …

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Forum looks for ways to expand mental health treatment access

Community Reach sponsors luncheon to discuss programs, pitfalls in behavioral health

Posted

A group of Adams County residents and leaders considered what barriers keep people from seeking mental health treatment at a Nov. 22 luncheon.

The Community Reach Center luncheon brought about 70 people — legislators, local police, health care providers and Community Reach staffers — to discuss how to improve Colorado residents’ access to mental and behavioral health treatment.

Community Reach is the non-profit behavioral health agency that serves Adams County.

The luncheon was a replacement to the group’s annual fall legislative luncheon that focused on trends in mental health and how state rules looked to impact them.

This year, the Community Reach CEO Rick Doucet spent less time talking to the people assembled but asked them to weigh on their thoughts concerning mental and behavioral health and what keeps people from seeking it.

“Let’s first define the scope of access to behavioral health care and discuss what are the crucial components,” Doucet said.

Those range from having enough health care providers and counselors — especially those trained in a variety of treatment options and in sync culturally with the people they serve — to having adequate transportation for patients and having a positive attitude about mental health and treatment.

“Do you believe it’s a diagnosable condition?” Doucet said. “Do you believe that treatment works? Is there equitable insurance coverage to support access to treatment to everyone. And then as a policy, do we criminalize mental illness and substance abuse?”

Breaking down those barriers is one of Community Reach’s main goals, he said.

“We have developed programs uniquely designed to improve access to care,” he said. “Some of these programs improve access at the locations where services is provided and some at the time it’s provided.”

For example, Doucet said the center began offering counseling for students in Adams County schools in the 1980s.

“That’s to serve kids where they spend most of their time, at school,” he said. “It’s especially beneficial to low-income parents who have transportation concerns.”

The program provides services in 75 schools and at Front Range Community College, he said.

The center also has increased the number of outpatient treatment programs for people reluctant to seek help and a number of inpatient treatment locations. It’s all part of an effort to make seeking help easier.

One issue Community Reach staff discovered was a lag in the amount of time between the intake interview — where the potential patient discusses their concerns and decides to seek help — and their first treatment session, Doucet said. Staff has tried to reduce the time between intake and when counseling sessions begin.

Table talk

Next, Doucet turned the discussion over to the luncheon attendees. Each of 17 tables was given a discussion topic, ranging from listing the barriers keeping would-be patients from seeking help to getting elders and seniors to seek help and dealing with behavioral health emergencies, like threats of suicide.

Each table’s discussions were logged and presented to the overall group after 30 minutes.

Regarding fears of suicide, the group suggested friends and family address the matter.

“Comment that you have noticed a change and ask the individual if they need help,” Doucet said, reading the tables’ comments.

Programs like Community Reach’s Mental Health First Aid, designed to teach non-experts some behavioral health warning signs and explain what treatment options are available in the community, help with that.

Thornton Police Commander Lee Vitgenos, talking with his table regarding barriers to access, said police officers tend to be on the front lines regarding mental health and often deal with people that need help.

Adams County and Community Reach have created mobile mental health crisis response teams that officers can call upon — a positive step for police and the community, Vitgenos said.

“We have seen situations where people are sitting in their own living rooms and they have a counselor right there,” he said. “It’s a very comfortable scenario. But if we told them, ‘you have to come with us,’ that changes the scenario. For them, they are in crisis and now they’re scared. And that’s when they get aggressive.”

Adams County has six of the crisis teams, and Vitgenos said they need more.

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