Raising mental health awareness

Integrative approach reaches more with mental health challenges

Lauren Blair
Nearly one in four people will have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, but many go undiagnosed and untreated. A partnership between the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Mind Springs Health in Craig and Steamboat Springs is working to reach more people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse through its integrative approach.
Courtesy Photo

— May is Mental Health Month and though stigma still exists around issues related to mental health, Mind Springs Health and Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association are working to reach those who need support.

Nationwide, nearly one in four people will have a diagnosable mental illness within any given year, according to Craig Thornhill, program director for the Mind Springs Health office in Craig.

“If you take the fact that 20 to 25 percent of the Moffat County population has a diagnosable mental illness in any given year and then look at how many of them are coming in to get treatment for diagnoses, there’s a huge mismatch, meaning there’s really a lot of people out there who could benefit from services but aren’t coming in,” Thornhill said. “We’re not reaching everybody we need to reach. And I think it’s going to take a collective community effort and partnerships to meet the spectrum of needs this town has.”

Mind Springs has partnered with the VNA in both Craig and Steamboat Springs to provide behavioral health and primary care integration.

“It’s basically a screening that everybody undergoes at every visit for the three major mental health problems that are inhibiting these communities — depression, anxiety and substance abuse,” said Gisela Garrison, director of the VNA community health center in Craig. “By us screening for those, we can talk to the patient and basically normalize the condition because unfortunately, there is still a high level of stigma regarding mental health diagnoses.”

The behavioral health clinician at the VNA is then available to meet with patients who present a mental health challenge for a brief intervention on-site, through which they can provide tips and techniques for managing stress, anxiety or depression and other resources to support good mental health.

“Our whole concept in primary care behavioral health integration is to encourage patients to learn healthy lifestyles,” Garrison said.

The integrative approach is also currently being supported and promoted on a state level.

“The state actually has a pretty big goal to get 80 percent of Coloradans having access to integrated health care by 2018,” said VNA Director of Business Development Janie Dunckley. “It’s providing more of that whole approach to a person and not just piece-mealing it into physical there, and mental there.”

Many individuals will not seek out specialized help through a therapist or psychologist, meaning integrative care offers the opportunity to reach a much higher percentage of those with mental health challenges.

“Sixty-five to 69 percent of folks are going to present (an illness) to a primary care physician, not at Mind Springs,” Thornhill said.

While primary care behavioral health integration is not able to treat severe mental illness, nor to provide long-term psychotherapy or counseling, it can offer support and awareness to those struggling with common mental health challenges.

Still, rural regions such as Northwest Colorado often struggle to meet the needs of the local community. The full-time behavioral health position at the VNA in Craig has been staffed only part-time since August due to difficulty finding a full-time clinician to fill it.

“It’s a Colorado issue and it’s a nationwide issue. Mental health issues are undertreated, underfunded, and I don’t think we are necessarily unusual in this respect,” Garrison said. “A rural area like Northwest Colorado still has less access to mental health care than an urban area.”

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or

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