Pitkin County’s bleak mental health survey points to flawed system | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County’s bleak mental health survey points to flawed system

Bureaucratic hassles of insurance companies, difficulties finding a provider are barriers for some seeking help, survey finds

Kayla Bailey, right, with Megan Baker, both of Mind Springs, talks during the Aspen Together mental health panel on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, inside the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The vaunted “mind, body, spirit” mantra of life in Aspen and Pitkin County is clearly missing from the lives of many who live and work here.

That’s according to the results of a community mental health assessment presented to Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday, which asked 587 survey responders, on a scale of one to 10, how included they felt in life here. The average answer? Three.

“That’s terrible,” Commissioner Francie Jacober said. “It’s sad.”

Ten percent of respondents said they had considered suicide in the past year and 11% said a loved one had considered the idea, while 2% had actually attempted suicide and 11% said they’d lost a loved one to suicide in the past year, said Chelsea Carnoali, Pitkin County’s mental health analyst.

Of English speakers who responded — by far the vast majority were straight, white women — the average reported a “major increase” in substance use in the past year, with alcohol the No. 1 abused substance followed by marijuana. Spanish speakers, which included just 52 respondents, reported “somewhat” of an increase in substance use during the past year, Carnoali said.

Twenty-one percent said they or a loved one struggled with addiction issues, with alcohol being the No. 1 abused substance.

Of the main symptoms people reported experiencing the past year, depression was the No. 1 problem, followed by anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and cravings. Reasons for these feelings included an inability to pay for mental health treatment, the high level of divisiveness currently in society and the high local cost of living and housing.

For English speakers, the main stressors of life in Aspen and Pitkin County included housing insecurity, financial insecurity and physical health. For Spanish speakers, physical health was the No. 1 stressor, followed by child care insecurity and job/financial insecurity.

On a scale of one to 10, again the average was three when people were asked how likely they were to seek mental health treatment. The reasons for that included the inability to pay for it and that insurance was too complicated or expensive when it came to mental health treatment.

The survey also included mental health providers in the area, 55% of which said they did not take insurance at all though 75% reported accepting a sliding scale for services. The bureaucratic hassle of dealing with insurance companies and not receiving adequate reimbursement from insurance companies were part of the reasons many opted out of the insurance world, said Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County public health director.

“Insurance companies aren’t working,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “It seems our insurance companies are failing us.”

In addition, the survey found that there are not enough mental health providers in the area with those who are here reportedly fully booked with patients, Carnoali said.

The assessment was done as part of an effort by a partnership that includes Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village, Aspen Valley Hospital, the Aspen Community Foundation, Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen School District and Colorado Mountain College to streamline and provide better mental health services. The partnership began in 2017 by combining financial resources in hopes of rapidly improving those services, according to a memo provided to commissioners Tuesday.

“The intent is to use the results of the community mental health assessment in order to inform the scope and type of mental health services that the Funders … will move forward with supporting in 2023,” according to the memo.

The top priorities for improving area mental health outlined Tuesday by Carnoali included providing systemic mental health leadership in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, removing barriers to the cost of mental health treatment, making it easier to connect with mental health services, better communication of mental health strategies to reduce the stigma involved and providing “culturally competent” resources and treatment opportunities for the Hispanic community and the LBGTQ community.

Poschman said the survey seemed to leave out those who enjoy life here.

“I know some unhappy people, but I know a lot of people who are happy with their lives here,” he said.

The goal of the assessment and the partnership is to create better services through contracts by January 2023, said Carnoali and Sabella.


Note: Resources taken from a mental health map available on AspenStrong.org

Counseling, therapy, case management

Aspen Strong

• How to get help: Call 970-718-2842 or visit AspenStrong.org.

Mountain Family Health Center

• How to get help: Call 945-2840 or visit MountainFamily.org.

Mind Springs Health

• How to get help: Call the Aspen office at 970-920-5555 or the Glenwood Springs office at 970-945-2583. Also, visit MindSpringsHealth.org.

24-hour hotlines

Colorado Crisis services

• Call 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

Hope Center

• Aspen: 970-925-5858

• Eagle: 970-306-4673

• Garfield: 970-945-3728

Grief and loss

• Pathfinders: 970-925-1226

Child and family

• Aspen Family connections: 970-205-7025

Family Resource Center

• Roaring Fork office: 970-384-9500

• Parachute: 970-285-5701

Servicios en español

Mind Springs Health

• Aspen office: 970-920-5555

• Glenwood Springs office: 970-945-2583

Mountain Family Health Centers

• Call 970-945-2840

Aspen Strong

• Directorio de terapeutas: 970-718-2842

Discovery Cafe

• Call 719-650-5978

• Visit DiscoveryCafe.org.

West Mountain Regional Health Alliance

• Call 970-429-6186

• Visit WestMountainHealthAlliance.org/covid/