Not too long ago I was at a networking event where the obvious question, “What do you do?” came up. I responded that I work at a behavioral health agency in Larimer County. The blank stare I received gave me pause. Did she not know what behavioral health is, or was she unsure how to respond because stigma can stifle conversations about my line of work?
So I asked, “Are you familiar with behavioral health?”
She admitted she had heard of it, but really didn’t know what it was all about. Since then, I have been certain to follow my introduction with, “We provide mental health and addiction treatment services across the county.”
People understand that. They might then share that their brother is struggling with alcohol, or that their niece has obsessive-compulsive tendencies and depression, or that their son’s friend survived a heroin overdose. And while these stories are heartbreaking and all too common, my parting message is always this: people can and do recover.
That’s why it’s so important to celebrate May as Mental Health Awareness Month. At my agency, SummitStone Health Partners, we see people take that first step on their road to recovery every day, and every day we celebrate our clients’ improvements along the way. It takes courage, commitment and support. Recovery is possible. In fact, it’s what drives me to lead the largest provider of behavioral health services in Larimer County.
Our mission at SummitStone is to provide unsurpassed behavioral health services, and we accomplish this through our work with community partners. We work with schools, jails, libraries, homeless services, housing, the courts, human services and many other organizations to provide the best care and treatment services possible.
This past year, SummitStone celebrated 60 years of providing care to Larimer County. In 2017, we delivered more than 150,000 services including nearly 6,000 clients seen through our 24/7 Crisis Center. Knowing that one in five residents in Larimer County struggle with mental health issues, it’s obvious to see that everyone is affected in some way.
With May as Mental Health Awareness Month, I must point out that while our community has amazing services to help people, we also have critical gaps. Two years ago, a ballot measure to fund those gaps narrowly failed. Since then, a group of dedicated professionals, led by Larimer County, have been working to bring the issue to the people once again. A forthcoming proposal includes a facility to house many critical services not yet offered here, and to bring other related services under the same roof.
Behavioral health is a quality of life issue that should no longer be ignored. We deserve better. And we can do better. We need people to break down stigma, share their stories and start the discussion where there is none. When you reflect how mental health and addiction issues have impacted your life and the lives of your loved ones, please consider how we can improve the health of our entire community, including those experiencing behavioral health issues.
Because people can and do recover.
Michael Allen is CEO of SummitStone Health Partners in Fort Collins.