Overcoming mental illness at Denver’s community health center
With one in four people—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiencing mental illness in a given year, efforts to increase awareness as well as access to mental health services are a high priority. The Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), a private, not-for-profit, community mental health center, is instrumental in the recovery of the Coloradoans, helping those with mental health issues live healthy, productive and meaningful lives.
As the largest provider of mental health services in Denver as well as the state, MHCD is leading the way in providing all types of people in all walks of life access to mental health care services. According to the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, Colorado ranks sixth in the U.S. for suicide deaths; suggesting that mental illness has a much bigger impact on our state than we may have realized. Former First Lady of Colorado and Mental Health Ambassador for the Mental Health Center of Denver, Jeannie Ritter, has focused much of her efforts on raising awareness of the issue of mental health and overcoming the social stigma associated with mental illness. “As a country, we never supported community behavioral health in the way it needed to be supported, but I really think that’s changing,” says Ritter.
MHCD is trying to broaden the spectrum of its services so that everyone from children to geriatric patients can receive the help they need. Ritter believes that both early intervention and targeting the community as a whole is the solution to our current mental health care crisis. Services available at MHCD include but are not limited to mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing, education and employment services for adults. The organization is also the leading treatment resource for children, teens and families, including those with serious emotional disturbances.
Centrally located in the heart of Denver, MHCD began in 1989 through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant. Denver city leaders recognized the need to establish a single provider of high quality mental health services in Denver County. In July 2012, MHCD opened its new state of the art, LEED-certified Recovery Center. Providing integrated health care where patients can receive both physical and mental health care services simultaneously is what makes the center unique. The recovery center provides increased access to primary care, laboratory, pharmacy, intensive case management, wellness education, supportive housing, benefits acquisition as well as other essential services, all under one roof.
Dr. Clark, CEO of MHCD, believes that physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand. “This is especially important for people living with mental illness, as on average, they die 25 years earlier than people who don’t,” says Clark. The center is pioneering what Dr Clark calls a “collaborative care model,” in which patients can address all aspects of their physical and mental health in one visit.
During a patient’s first appointment, clinicians determine the type of services they might need. Services vary from patient to patient. While some people may only require minimal services, others may need more intensive care. “We continually monitor their progress and adjust our treatment. Taking an individualized approach and constantly monitoring our effectiveness helps us deliver the appropriate level of care,” says Dr. Clark.
“It is such a unique place. They don’t put you in a box. They believe in recovery, and recovery is individual there,” says Marika, who was referred to MHCD following a period of homelessness, psychotic breakdowns and hospitalizations. “You walk in the door, they ask you what you want for your life and they put you on the path you need to be on,” she says. “MHCD is a main factor in my life and my recovery.”
In 2013, through treatment and outreach programs, MHCD was able to help 37,800 children, families and adults. Every year, the organization is able to help more people thanks in large part to their ability to reach out and bring their services directly to the patient. “Most people who are sick or injured know they should seek medical help. Most people struggling with mental illness or emotional trauma don’t know where to turn,” says Dr. Clark. Partnerships with organizations across the state make it easy, no matter where an individual goes for help, to be referred to the MHCD.
The organization accepts all people into treatment, regardless of their ability to pay. Both the PRICARe project for Medicaid recipients, funded by the Colorado Health Foundation, and the federally-funded Integrated Primary Care and Wellness project for uninsured individuals provide primary and wellness services through MHCD.
“Our goal is that everyone in Denver who needs access to mental health services has access whether they are seeing us or other providers in the community,” says Dr. Clark. “We are dedicated to serving people whatever their circumstances.”
How to Help
Whether you seek treatment yourself or would like to support the Mental Health Center of Denver as they treat others, you can find more information by calling 303.504.6500 or visiting mhcd.org.
MHCD accepts financial support as well as vehicle and in-kind donations. The organization also has a volunteer program and an annual event; the latter is Gifts of Joy, a drive that helps provide gifts to children and adults in the community who might otherwise be forgotten during the holidays.
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