Mental Health Colorado, a statewide nonprofit, is making it easier to track depression, suicide, opioid overdoses and other regional mental health indicators.
“Our goal is to equip individuals with a tool they can use to make change,” said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado.
The new data dashboard tracks mental health indicators across age groups, what percentage of people aren’t getting mental health care and why they aren’t getting care.
For example, the Colorado Health Access Survey found in Southwest Colorado, 10.2 percent of people did not get the mental health care they needed, according to the new dashboard.
The cost of care was a barrier for about 40 percent of those seeking care, and 40 percent had difficulty getting an appointment, it said.
The dashboard also tracks some substance use, such as binge drinking.
In La Plata County, 20 percent of high school students – grades nine through 12 – reported participating in binge drinking.
On average in Colorado, 16.6 percent of high school students reported binge drinking.
In addition to the dashboard, the nonprofit is building a statewide network of advocates interested in working on mental health issues throughout Colorado and within their own communities.
“We want this to be a two-way street,” Romanoff said.
Mental Health Colorado is working to encourage early mental health interventions in schools, address the shortage of mental health care workers in some areas and make sure insurance companies provide behavioral health treatment as required.
The nonprofit also wants to help local communities bolster local efforts to improve mental health.
For example, earlier in November, Eagle County residents approved a tax on recreational marijuana to fund local mental health services, he said. The money could go to school-based clinicians, mental health councilors for Eagle County jail and additional funding for Aspen Hope Center, which serves those in crisis, Vail Daily reported.
Other communities including Ouray, Estes Park and Colorado Springs are also looking at bolstering local mental health services, he said.
“I think what you’re seeing is a lot of communities stepping up and saying this is a crisis in our own town,” he said.
Increasing the funding for mental health services could help the state save money in other areas such as prisons and emergency rooms, he said.
About 60 percent of adults in Colorado with mental illness did not receive services between 2011 and 2015, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Mental illness is not some exotic disease confined to a tiny fraction,” Romanoff said. “This is a set of disorders that touches every family in the state.”
Mental Health Colorado also wants to make sure when counties succeed in improving mental health, the techniques are shared with others across the state so they can be replicated.