Access to behavioral and mental health services is the #1 community health priority identified in the recent Yampa Valley 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment, so any additional layer of services available to help residents locals with mental health therapy is welcomed by local councillors.
A statewide program for young people that offers six free mental health counseling sessions by a licensed therapist has been underutilized so far in the Yampa Valley. The I Matter program, operated by the State Office of Behavioral Health and available online at IMatterColorado.orgtargets youth age 18 and under with mental health issues or residents age 21 or younger if receiving special education services.
Only 27 young people in Routt County have used the I Matter service since its inception in October 2021, and fewer than 10 young people in Moffat County. Services are provided in English and Spanish.
I Matter is designed to help young people in Colorado who might be struggling with anxiety, depression, frustration, or just want someone to talk to. This summer, the state legislature renewed funding for the program to continue through at least June 2023.
“Through a quick mental health survey, young people can gain insight into their emotions,” according to the I Matter documents. “These assessments are also used to match them with the right mental health professional for free, confidential and compassionate therapy sessions.”
Shelby DeWolfe, behavioral health and restorative practices coordinator for the Steamboat Springs School District, said I Matter is another tool in the community‘s toolbox.
“There is a high demand and need for mental health services in our community, and we are always working to increase access to mental health services for our students and their families,” DeWolfe said. “We always want all students and families to be educated and have access to as many mental health resources as possible.”
Gina Toothaker, program director for Mind Springs Health at Steamboat, said she would like to see more awareness in the Valley about I Matter so more children can get help.
“There’s a gap in service affordability, and in parts of Colorado there’s also a gap in access,” Toothaker said. “There are not enough therapists working with children.”
The 194 counselors currently registered with I Matter live throughout Colorado, and the majority of appointments are taking place via telehealth, explained Charlotte Whitney, assistant director of communications for the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. After completing an online survey, young people can choose from recommended counselors and select an appointment time within two weeks.
Despite low usage in the Yampa Valley, Whitney said the year-old program has been successful so far, delivering at least one therapy session to 4,293 young people and more than three sessions to 2,484 young people. The most heavily used areas are Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso, and Jefferson counties. She said 84% of young people keep their appointments and the young people served most often suffer from depression or anxiety.
Whitney noted that school counselors find I Matter especially useful when school is not in session during vacations and summer break. Youth 12 and older can complete the online survey on their own. After six free sessions, a care navigator contacts participants to see what additional help may be needed.
DeWolfe said the free I Matter service can be a short-term resource for young people who need a sounding board to discuss thought distortions, catastrophizing or stress in their lives. She said the district counseling team believe I Matter can provide support and relief, but “we haven’t experienced it to address underlying issues, trauma or family systems work that is often necessary”.
I Matter aims to reduce barriers such as cost or the potential stigma or embarrassment of scheduling in a counseling office. Young people who prefer a more tech-savvy, no-pressure style of advice may also be attracted to I Matter.
DeWolfe said the telehealth-like counseling service has received mixed reviews from local youth and families.
“Some say the process for accessing services and virtual sessions felt impersonal and did not meet their expectations of addressing their concerns,” DeWolfe said. “Others have shared that this is what they need while waiting for local in-person support options to become available.”
I Matter is not a crisis support service; Colorado Crisis Services is available by phone or text at 844-493-TALK (8255).
Any organization ranging from a library to a community center is encouraged to request promotional materials to help spread awareness of I Matter, Whitney said. Free posters, backing cards, stickers, or banners can be shipped free of charge upon request via an online form at IMattercolorado.org/about.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email [email protected]