I grew up in Longmont, Colorado and I was fortunate to have access to mental health services, including the opportunity to attend regular sessions with a pediatric psychologist. Therapy wasn’t something I talked about with my friends, teachers, or siblings, and I still remember making silly excuses about why I was traveling across town when I went to the sessions. While I was incredibly nervous at first, I soon began to look forward to the time I got to spend solving puzzles while talking about my feelings and challenges.
In addition to the assistance therapy provided me as a child, the sessions helped me develop strategies to care for my mental health throughout my life. I learned to journal, which helped me handle the stress of school; I developed the ability to vocalize my feelings, which allowed me to process the grief of lost loved ones; and I increased my own emotional self-awareness, which allowed me to cope with seasonal depression when I moved to Tacoma, Washington for college. Although my time in therapy was brief, it was undoubtedly a life-enhancing experience.
The access I had to mental health services as a child is unique. Currently, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24 in Colorado (Colorado Department of Public Health), yet 70% of children experiencing a mental health or substance abuse disorder in the state never get the care they need (Mental Health Colorado). This lack of mental health resources for children not only hurts them in the short run, but can have harmful e‑ects that last for a lifetime (Mental Health America).
Upon graduating from college, I returned to Colorado to join El Pomar’s Fellowship Program. In learning about the Foundation, I was energized to discover the work the North Regional Council is doing near my hometown to impact youth mental health: In the spring of 2018, the Council began a multi-year funding relationship with two mental health service providers to place four clinicians in six schools throughout the region. When I received my program assignments for my Fellowship, I was honored to have been placed on the North team and have the opportunity to participate in this impactful work.
The funding has now been implemented for one semester. Clinicians have worked with students in some of the highest-need schools in the Thompson Valley and Fort Lupton school districts and their work has been received well by students, teachers, and parents. In addition to meeting with students, these clinicians are working to create positive school cultures through a variety of educational initiatives.
As someone who grew up in the North region and whose life has been changed through mental health services, it has been a privilege to return to the area and work with partners that are making a substantive impact on an overwhelming problem. There is still work to do, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this enriching project that hits close to home in more ways than one.