In 2013, the Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) included questions around mental health for the first time. The results were significant: one out of every four Coloradans experienced one or more days of poor mental health during the past 30 days. I’m not really surprised by these findings. Nearly everyone I know, including myself, has faced at least one bout of stress, depression, or emotional instability at some point in their life.
Yet, despite its pervasiveness, the stigma associated with mental illness and the barriers to accessing mental health services are significant. According to the CHAS, nearly 8 percent, or over 375,000 Coloradans, said they needed mental health services in the past year but did not get them. And one in three of those individuals did not feel comfortable talking about personal problems with a health professional.
With many innovations aimed at providing better access to mental health services throughout our state and nation, there’s hope that these statistics will change for the better in the coming years. The Affordable Care Act established mental health services as an essential health benefit that health plans are now required to cover in their benefit packages. The Colorado Health Care Innovation Plan, which was created via the State Innovation Model Pre-Testing Assistance Award that Colorado received in 2013, outlines in great detail Colorado’s strategic roadmap for integrating behavioral and physical health in primary care medical homes. And, community-based efforts to integrate primary and behavioral health care services abound across Colorado—including through the innovative Advancing Care Together (ACT) collaboration.
All this talk of innovation and systems change is exciting, but it’s important we remain thoroughly connected to the individuals and providers who are facing the health care challenges Colorado is trying to fix. We need to understand what is working for them and what is not, and what they hope the system looks like in the future.
So last summer, we asked Coloradans to share their stories. In partnership with ACT and the Center for Digital Storytelling, our team at Colorado HealthStory had the privilege of traveling around the state and getting a first-hand account of what patients and providers think about the integrated care interventions at the ACT pilot sites. We recently compiled these stories in an interactive map that is highlighted on Colorado HealthStory’s website.
We sat down with patients, physicians, and counselors, and asked them to tell us their health story. I conducted many of the interviews personally and, as I always do, came away from the experience with great admiration for the resiliency and creativity of my fellow Coloradans. Katie in Lamar taught me that mental health is a lifelong journey of ups and downs that is far from predictable. Pat in Basalt taught me just how powerful having a care team can be. Sandy in Brighton reminded me just how important it is to have someone to talk to.
Our state is embarking on a promising journey to make these changes to how Coloradans access mental health services. I hope as we continue down this path we let patients guide the way.