Moving from Responsive to Preventive Mental Health Funding
by Emily Wagner
Over the past few years, the San Juan Regional Council has focused its grant making efforts on youth mental health. While focusing on this issue, council members concentrated funding recommendations on responsive mental health efforts, including: parent-child interaction therapy to alter disruptive behavior in youth; increasing the salary and benefits for a director of clinical services; training for mental health staff members at Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Seventh Judicial District and contributing to the establishment of a behavioral health department in Gunnison Valley to support suicide prevention and substance abuse care.
While responsive care in the region serves an essential purpose in supporting mental and behavioral health care needs, council members felt stuck in determining how to best encourage additional projects that aid youth mental health care in alternative ways. The Council decided to shift its point of view when considering mental health and resiliency efforts and found local organizations working towards holistic youth well-being through preventative mental health programming. This new perspective on mental health care recognized that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach in the region. Moving forward, council members continue to consider how to support clinical mental health service providers and are also researching organizations that teach resiliency, facilitate mentorship, develop life skills in youth, organize extracurricular activities and promote community.
One example emblematic of the Council’s expanded support of youth mental health is the three-year funding project with the Early Childhood Development Collaborative (ECDC) between 2020 and 2022. This multi-year funding in partnership with the ECDC identified social-emotional development as a critical element of mental health. Partners within the Collaborative utilized funding to implement the Pyramid Coaching Project, a teaching strategy in which coaches work one-on-one with early childhood educators to implement specific strategies and routines to teach children to adjust behavior, manage emotions, make friends, resolve conflict, make responsible decisions and identify their own emotions and the emotions of others. Recognizing the critical link between healthy social-emotional development and mental health allowed the San Juan Regional Council to continue its grant making to support youth mental/behavioral health and well-being by seeing opportunities beyond typical clinical services.
Between October 2021 and June 2022, with this expanded definition of mental health care, the Council set a goal to distribute $150,000 in grant funding to address mental health challenges throughout the region. The intent was to distribute small, one-time grants to organizations that have potential to make a large impact but need start-up funding, or to those that the Council has not funded in the past. The overall strategy of this approach was to support local organizations with an introductory round of funding so that the Council might assess impact and identify longer-term partners from among the grantees.
By May 2022, the San Juan Regional Council exceeded this goal, by recommending nearly $170,000 in grants to be distributed for a variety of programming throughout the region. Programs and initiatives included: supportive, inter-generational housing for young adults and seniors at imminent risk of homelessness with high behavioral health care needs; workforce development through continuing education, certification programs, supervision costs and degree support for mental health professionals; community behavioral health needs assessment implementation; art therapy for youth; mental health and substance abuse services for college students and mental health convening meetings to understand community priorities.
Throughout the last year of strategizing and distributing funding, the Council has learned about the intricacies of youth mental health care and its connection to many other challenges that organizations face in the region including affordable housing, workforce shortages, early childhood development, substance abuse, education and community planning. By funding a wide spectrum of youth mental health services, from preventive care to responsive clinical care, the San Juan Regional Council continues to develop a deeper understanding of the greatest needs in the region and the areas in which grant funding helps to deliver effective and impactful results.