With support from the Colorado Health Access Fund, innovative services bring behavioral health within reach.
The Colorado Health Access Fund, a field of interest fund at The Denver Foundation, was created to increase access to behavioral health care in Colorado.
Since its inception in 2015, the fund has supported dozens of programs and organizations across the state, all working to improve behavioral health outcomes. The Colorado Crisis Line’s new texting service is one of the most broad-reaching and innovative.
After the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, the State of Colorado became more aware of a growing behavioral health crisis across the state. In response, lawmakers created a number of new programs including Colorado Crisis Services, a statewide crisis response system that encompassed a telephone assistance hotline, walk-in centers, a mobile response team, and respite services. When Colorado Crisis Services was created, it was recognized as an innovative approach to mental health care and delivery, one of only a few in the country.
Today, Colorado Crisis Line is the best-known of the services. It provides free, around-the-clock support for people experiencing behavioral health crises. The hotline is run by Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners, a grantee of the Colorado Health Access Fund, and offers direct counseling to safely stabilize people and then link them to appropriate follow-up care. The hotline served 56,000 people last year.
In 2017, with funding from the Colorado Health Access Fund, Colorado Crisis Line expanded its new texting service. Since March 2016, the crisis line has engaged in almost 17,000 text exchanges with people across the state. That number is expected to grow as the service is more broadly promoted in schools.
“The addition of the texting option for crisis support has increased accessibility. We are excited about this new way for people to be in touch with our clinicians to get the support they need,” says Bev Marquez, CEO of Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners.
Text exchanges are longer than phone calls: The average text exchange lasts 44 minutes, while phone calls are usually closer to 12 minutes long. And their popularity as a crisis intervention is growing. In November, Colorado Crisis Line logged nearly 1,500 text exchanges. Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners has hired additional staff to support people who choose to text instead of call, and to keep up with demand.
Marquez says the most common hotline interactions are related to anxiety, but responders have also assisted people facing challenges with substance use disorders, mood disorders, family conflicts, psychosis, and cognitive issues such as dementia or amnesia. Almost 30 percent of the calls to the hotline are from family members or concerned friends or colleagues who want to know how to better support their loved ones, and to understand what services are available. They receive tools to communicate with the person they are concerned about and ways to engage in self-care.
In addition to receiving calls and texts, Rocky Mountain Crisis Line Partners operates follow-up programs by collaborating with hospital emergency departments and law enforcement agencies. This service also operates through the hotline, offering high-risk callers the option of follow-up calls or texts at helpful intervals. Evidence shows that crisis-line related follow-up activities help to minimize suicide ideation and hopelessness. These innovative services improve motivation to attend a behavioral health appointment and reduce barriers to care.
“The Colorado Health Access Fund has always looked to fund innovative and effective ways to reduce barriers to behavioral health treatment,” says Dace West, Vice President of Community Impact at The Denver Foundation. “This program meets people where they are and offers help for those in crisis as well as their family and friends.”
For more information on the Colorado Health Access Fund, please visit denverfoundation.org, or call the Programs Department at 303.300.1790.