May is Mental Health Awareness Month and all month we are working with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health, to host Facebook Live segments and connect you to mental health experts.
For the first segment we talked to Colorado Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera, Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Robert Werthwein, Medicaid Director Tracy Johnson, Licensed Counselor from Cigna Jason Youngblood, and 9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli.
What is Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health Awareness Month aims to destigmatize mental health conditions, “One in five Coloradans has a behavioral health condition, whether that’s a substance use disorder or mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or other serious diagnoses,” explained Colorado Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera. “We also know that stigma is a big reason why people forego treatment. By sharing our stories about mental health, we can start to reduce feelings of shame and empower more Coloradans to seek help.”
What is Colorado doing to support mental health issues
The state has established a Behavioral Health Task Force with the goal of making it easier for people to get the help they need when they need it. Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, recently announced that the task force will have a special assignment committee related to COVID-19 to look at how the virus has affected Coloradans’ behavioral health.
In addition to the Behavioral Health Task Force, the Office of Behavioral Health works to support Coloradans and their mental health by providing funding to providers across the state to serve those that are under or uninsured. The office also runs the state’s two mental health institutes and the crisis response system, Colorado Crisis Services.
When should you get help? What resources are available?
“We all struggle with our mental health from time to time. Crises like COVID-19 may cause people to experience fear, worry, or grief and at a time when they are more isolated than usual. Experiencing good and bad days is a normal part of life,” said Office of Behavioral Health Director Robert Werthwein.
You should seek help however when those emotions interfere with your regular life, “They may affect your sleeping patterns, your substance use, or how you interact with others. You may be so overwhelmed that you have trouble concentrating at work or school. If you experience these changes, we encourage you to reach out for help,” added Werthwein.
If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255. You can also chat online through the Colorado Crisis Services website.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on our mental health, “Colorado Crisis Services saw a nearly 50 percent increase in calls compared to last year. More than 60 percent of the calls in April were related to COVID-19 concerns,” explained Werthwein. “We expect people to need more support as we dig out of the crisis, especially those who were hospitalized or lost a loved one to this disease.”
For many that have lost their job during the COVID-19 pandemic, financial stress can take a toll on your mental health. If you have lost your health insurance and are unemployed, you may now qualify for Medicaid, “During the pandemic, more people than ever are qualifying for these programs,” said Colorado Medicaid Director Tracy Johnson.
“It may not be as top of mind as your rent or mortgage but we encourage people, whether they have a mental health condition or not, but that find themselves in a situation where they need insurance coverage to apply for Medicaid,” said Johnson.
Medicaid has extensive mental health benefits for those that qualify including individual and group therapy, screening services, inpatient and residential care, along with covering community mental health centers. You can find more information by clicking here.
There are additional behavioral health resources on the Colorado Department of Human Services website.
9Health also has free, anonymous, online mental health screenings. You can click here to be screened for anxiety and depression and be connected to free virtual help.
Ways to take care of your mental health
Your physical health is directly tied to your mental health. Experts say it’s important to get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise to not only stay in good physical shape but to help you feel good mentally as well.
“When my sleep is disrupted for more than a day or two, I tend to get a little bit irritable and I tend to be an anxious person,” said Cigna Licensed Professional Counselor Jason Youngblood. “That’s just an example of how your mind and your body are connected.”
Youngblood also emphasized the importance of exercise, “Physical activity is really important. We can burn off a lot of extra energy and anxiety.”
That might all be easier said than done, but it is important to pay attention to how your physical health affects your mental wellbeing, “Taking daily walks around my neighborhood helps me stay fit, get some fresh air, and spend time with my daughter and granddaughter who live with me. Many people find meditation and other mindfulness techniques helpful in disconnecting from stress,” added Primavera.
“It’s also important to regularly connect with friends and family. Having a strong network can help you through tough experiences. Especially in these times, we encourage you to video chat and call loved ones for support. We can get through it by leaning on one another,” Primavera said.
What does mental health treatment look like right now?
During the COVID-19 pandemic many doctors and mental health providers have gone virtual, “Telehealth is critically important at a time like this because it’s not always easy to get into the doctor’s office or to get in to see somebody,” said 9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli.
You will need to check with your insurance to see what is covered, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, many insurances are waiving the requirement for an in-person visit before starting virtual visits.
The State has worked to expand telehealth services so you can get the physical and mental health care you need form home, “In Colorado, telemedicine can be delivered through video meetings, phone calls and chat such as Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, or Skype. Telemedicine is easy and convenient. We expect to see Coloradans continue to take advantage of telemedicine even after the COVID-19 is behind us,” said Primavera.
If you have a health question you can also talk to a medical professional through our 9Health Neighbors Program by calling 303-698-4455, ext. 2005. Leave a message and a 9Health Medical Volunteer will call you back within 24 hours.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and all month we are working with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health, to host Facebook Live segments and connect you to mental health experts. Watch live on Facebook every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:00 a.m. in May and come ask your questions.