County puts focus on mental health

Officials call for reducing stigma of mental illness

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While Douglas County has a year-round initiative to support emotional wellness, the county commissioners specifically deemed the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week to highlight the issue.

The board did so during an Oct. 9 business meeting in a unanimously approved resolution.

“This isn't something we just do for a week in Douglas County,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said in the meeting. “We do this every day, 24/7 because its what our citizens want and demand of us.”

The resolution outlined statistics around mental illness, including that every year, one in five adults experiences a mental health problem. It also explained the board wished to make the declaration to “shine a light on mental illness and fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care,” according to the resolution.

For Deputy County Manager Barbara Drake, the goal is to change how people see mental health, she said.

“Ultimately, I'd like to get to a place where people are thinking about accessing mental health services in the same ways that they do physical health,” she said.

While stigma around mental wellness does slow down those seeking help, it's not the only thing standing in the way. There are financial barriers and lack of access, and often people don't know where to go to begin, said Laura Ciancone, the coordinator for the Douglas County mental health initiative.

One place to start is by looking into what is offered through one's insurance, she said. It's also important to know when this step is necessary.

One way to know it's time to reach out is when daily activities such as work, hobbies or family life are negatively affected by mental health, she said.

“If there is destruction in your everyday life … it would be worth looking into what your options are,” Ciancone said.

This intervention could be anything from counseling to changes in diet or rest habits, she said.

“In Douglas County, people have pretty high expectations of themselves and their children and sometimes that leads to very high levels of stress,” she said.

Douglas County's Crisis Response Team has responded to 1,194 911 calls for service and 2,190 follow-up calls since it started in May 2017, Drake said.

Residents can use this service by calling 911 when themselves or someone they know is showing signs of being in crisis.

Colorado Crisis Services also offers a hotline for people either in crisis or just looking for help. They can be reached by calling 1-844-493-8255 or texting “TALK" to 38255. More information is available at coloradocrisisservices.org.

“Mental illness has no zip code, it has no income, it has no education,” county spokesperson Wendy Holmes said. “Look for signs in others who need help and encourage the conversation when someone isn't feeling as mentally well as they could or should.”

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