DENVER | More than one million Coloradans — men, women, and children — live with a mental health condition, according to a recent news release from Kaiser Permanente.
And even though depression and other mental health issues are common, they can be difficult to talk about. Last week, Kaiser Permanente Colorado launched a new effort to spark conversation and fight the stigma surrounding mental health.
Kaiser Permanente’s “Find Your Words” public health awareness campaign focuses on TV, radio, and online messages that talk about depression in an honest and inspiring way. Coinciding with the start of National Mental Health Month, the campaign launched May 1.
“At Kaiser Permanente, we believe health is achieved when mind, body, and spirit work together to improve your life,” Roland Lyon, Kaiser Permanente Colorado president, said in a statement. “With this campaign, we hope to spark the conversation and let Coloradans know that receiving care for your mental health is just as important as going to the doctor for strep throat or a broken arm.”
The “Find Your Words” campaign drives viewers to FindYourWords.org, a website that provides basic information about depression, offers resources and invites the public to engage in a conversation about mental health and wellness through an interactive component. Kaiser Permanente partnered with several national organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line and Mental Health America on the “Find Your Words” campaign.
“We are expanding partnerships with local and national mental health organizations, and standing together as a strong voice against the stigma and shame that can hinder some from seeking help,” Margaret Ferguson, president and executive medical director of the Colorado Permanente Medical Group, which provides care to the 680,000 Kaiser Permanente members in the state, said in a statement. “We want people to know that mental health treatment works and that there is hope.”
Thriving Schools behavioral health grants
In addition to the “Find Your Words” campaign, Kaiser Permanente awarded grant funding to advance social and emotional wellness and mental health in school districts across the state. In August 2017, Kaiser Permanente will award five Colorado school districts, including Cherry Creek School District, a combined $1.5 million in Thriving Schools behavioral health grants.
The Thriving Schools grant will support the implementation of the Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS) program at CCSD’s Prairie Middle School — one of the largest and most diverse in Colorado. Its 1,780 students represent 70 countries and 45 different languages.
The schools, which also include Boulder Valley, Summit, Thompson and Fountain-Fort Carson school districts, will use the grants to increase access to mental health and wellness programs to help teachers and staff learn how to identify and deal with mental health needs in students as well as themselves.
“A child’s mental health is greatly influenced by their experiences at school,” said Douglas Newton, MD, Kaiser Permanente Colorado psychiatrist. “With these grants, we hope to support more Colorado teachers and staff as they continue to learn skills to identify mental health and wellness needs for themselves, their students and the school community.”
Supporting HEARTS at Prairie Middle School
In February 2014, Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull shared a letter with the CCSD community addressing a topic he said wasn’t often discussed: student suicide. At the time, a Prairie Middle School student had committed suicide, prompting Bull and the district to send out the letter along with tips and resources.
Nearly three years later, CCSD’s mental health efforts made the next big leap by bringing the Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS) program to Prairie Middle School, which began teacher and staff training in the program in February.
Originally crafted by the University of California, San Francisco and implemented in San Francisco Unified School District, HEARTS made its first appearance in Colorado at Aurora Public Schools in fall 2013. The program, aimed at disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, helps educators recognize signs of trauma in students — and gives them the tools to intervene.
“Anything from a death in the family to divorce to observing violence, a student being in foster care, an at-risk parent or a parent being incarcerated, substance abuse in the home … all those things can affect a student,” Cam Short-Camilli, coordinator of mental health services at CCSD, said in an interview in January. “When kids are at the high level of stress, they’re just not very available for learning. If they’re worried about going home and their safety or whether they’re going to have food, it has a high impact on them being able to focus in the classroom.”
Trauma can manifest as disruptive behavior, poor grades, lack of concentration and many other things, Short-Camilli said. Instead of responding to the behavior with suspension or expulsion, HEARTS aims to identify students who might be experiencing mental health problems which are affecting their school performance.
Additional mental health support
Kaiser Permanente also offers schools a unique approach to learning about, identifying, and living with mental health issues. “People Like Vince” is a free, interactive play for elementary students that seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by teaching students about social and emotional wellness. This school year, “People Like Vince” was performed to more than 13,000 students at 49 Colorado schools.
In addition to schools, Kaiser Permanente provides support to various public mental health organizations. Recently, they teamed up with eight Colorado foundations to announce an $11.2 million, five-year ‘LAUNCH Together’ grant aimed at promoting the social and emotional health and well-being of Colorado’s children and families.
Kaiser Permanente also supports advancing mental health through research, and its Institute for Health Research is currently involved in numerous studies including evaluating the effectiveness of online programs for managing depression, interventions to improve the mental health and wellbeing of pregnant and postpartum women, suicide prevention, and early detection of mental illness.
In 2011, the IHR joined the Mental Health Research Network to develop a diverse national resource for mental health researchers. The partnership enables multiple health systems and hospitals across the US to coordinate data and implement the most effective treatments for patients.
To learn more about mental health, please visit FindYourWords.org and see what you can do to take part in this important conversation.
Staff writer Susan Gonzalez contributed to this report.