Denver, CO

Denver will evaluate city’s mental health

David Heitz

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Denver is about to get personal.

The City Council approved Monday, Dec. 5 extending a contract for a company working to reduce mental health stigma in Denver.

The company, Analytics and Insights Matter LLC, or AIM, began work last year on the $800,000 contract. The company also will work through the end of this year in part to assess the city’s mental health.

Councilmember Candi CdeBaca asked whether council will receive a report on what the company finds and whether the stigma campaign was successful. A representative of city staff said the council will receive a report on the matter.

According to a memo from city staff to the City Council, the assessment will:

· Review the literature (prior strategic plans, studies, and prior needs assessments) conducted within the last three to five years on mental health and substance use disorder in Denver.

· Review demographics and populations at risk or impacted by mental health and substance use disorders, including the population size and level of care needed if available, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics, health literacy, and health-seeking behaviors.

· Develop methods, sampling schemes, tools, data collection, cleaning, storage, and analysis protocols, including data security protocols to protect personally identifiable information.

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· Identify needs across the service continuum and pinpoint subpopulations of people with mental health conditions and substance use disorder. Identify the services needed and barriers to those services, including the extent to which people are denied service. Consider respondents' recommendations for how to improve service delivery so it is available, accessible, and acceptable across cultures, languages, gender identities, abilities, and other characteristics.

· Develop an inventory of organizations and individuals who provide services across the continuum, including service exclusions, wait lists, and number of people served annually by service level and condition.

· Identify capacity to deliver services, including the adequacy of the behavioral health workforce to meet needs and workforce limitations. Workforce limitations could be insufficient staff to meet service demand, inadequate education and training or a disconnect between the service population and those providing the services.

· Identify capacity development needs. Capacity development needs exist when disparities in the availability of services are identified, particularly in historically underserved communities.

The stigma factor

“According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, over 15 percent of Denver adults have experienced four or more adverse childhood events, which are associated with increases in risk for behavioral health conditions, indicating many Denver residents may want services at some point,” according to a memo from city staff to the City Council. “Stigma has been mentioned as a barrier to care in local focus groups and conversations with people with behavioral health conditions.”

The Behavioral Health Literacy and Community Involvement Working Group assisted the development of “Road to Wellness: A Strategic Framework to Improve Behavioral Health in Denver.” The group indicated that “stigma remains a major barrier in accessing behavioral health treatment.”

An anti-stigma campaign also has been developed around substance abuse treatment.

“A campaign addressing stigma is included in the opioid response strategic plan as a strategy to prevent substance (mis)use, and aligns with Caring 4 Denver’s focuses on youth, community-centered connections, care provision, and alternatives to jail,” according to the memo.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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