Less than 2 months since the state launched the "I Matter" website for students to access free mental health services, around 1,500 appointments have been scheduled or completed.
Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers approved spending $9 million to provide three free counseling sessions to all Colorado youth. The Colorado Office of Behavioral Health launched the “I Matter” portal in late October.
Liz Owens, the deputy director of programs for behavioral health, said there was immediate interest as soon as the website went live.
“We had hundreds of appointments scheduled very quickly, and as of Dec. 10, we had 40 youths who have received three or more sessions, so that means that some youth got engaged really quickly and took advantage of those three sessions,” Owens said.
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She added that 133 young people have received two of their free sessions. The state has contracts with 77 therapists to provide services, mostly via telehealth.
“We have a couple hundred slots available at any point in time, so if a youth is looking to schedule a session really quickly, or their parents, they should be able to do so through the program,” Owens said.
The pandemic, along with factors including social media and bullying, has led several leading medical and mental health organizations to declare youth mental health a national emergency. Owens said while three sessions may not be enough to address all of a young person’s needs, it’s a way to get them into the habit of talking about mental health.
“The advantage of the three sessions is that we can help you develop a relationship with a counselor or therapist, and help them really develop a relationship with mental health care,” Owens said.
She added that the office developed a set of criteria to evaluate the need for additional sessions.
State lawmakers will evaluate the “I Matter” program in the upcoming legislative session. Owens said her office is working on a progress report to deliver to lawmakers by Jan. 1. They are awaiting additional demographic data to show if there are any groups of kids that are accessing the program the most, and which groups may need additional outreach.
A version of the “I Matter” website in Spanish will launch soon.
“We want to make sure that we're reaching diverse youth across the state,” Owens said.