For all the improvements we’ve made in mental health care in La Plata County, we still have a way to go.
That was the opinion of five panelists working in the field in some way at a League of Women Voters meeting Thursday afternoon at the Durango Community Recreation Center. It’s better, they agreed, to offer mental health care integrated with physical health care, because the stigma of needing mental health care drives many people away from asking for it. It’s less threatening to access it while meeting with one’s primary care physician, said Dr. Stephanie Allred, of Axis Health System and the La Plata County Integrated Clinic.
Getting more thorough care options for youth is a priority for Steve Brittain from La Plata Youth Services.
“We need day treatment, a safe place for kids to go and the ability to do crisis management in the community,” he said. His agency works with youth whose truancy levels have become concerns and as a diversion for kids from the criminal justice system.
“About 80 percent of the students we work with are dealing with substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness or maybe no support structure.”
Jackie Oros, the chief student advocacy officer for Durango School District 9-R, said the district is stepping up its behavioral-health support services in the schools, including working more closely with Youth Services and putting mental health experts into the two school-based student health centers, two mental health specialists in schools that don’t have a health center and accessing help from private practitioners in the community who donate care.
The school district also has AmeriCorps Check & Connect mentors in several other schools.
“We screened all students at Durango High School to evaluate suicide risk,” Oros said, “partly to establish a baseline, but also to connect those at high risk with behavioral health specialists.”
It’s a key part of preparing students for success in life, she said.
“The research is clear. Increasing prosocial behavior improves students’ master of the subject, increases grades, typically by 11 points,” she said, “improves their motivation to learn, attendance, attitudes and graduation rates. Their resiliency goes way up, because success leads to success.”
Judge Martha Minot addressed problem-solving courts, Brigid Korce from Housing Solutions of the Southwest’s Transitional Housing program talked about the inability to find affordable housing for clients, and Jaynee Fontecchio-Spradling described the Community Health Action Coalition of La Plata County’s efforts in creating a plan.
The next step for the LWV will probably be partnering with the Health Action Coalition in co-hosting a similar panel in the spring for the community-at-large, while working with the LWV of Colorado to establish some advocacy goals with the Legislature.