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Colorado West is largest behavioral health services provider in northwestern Colorado

Carrie Click
Contributing Writer
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent
ALL |

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The numbers are surprising.

According to Sharon Raggio, president and CEO of Colorado West Regional Mental Health (CWRMH), the Surgeon General claims that one in five Americans experiences a mental disorder during the course of a year.

That means that in the restaurant where you dine, the theater you attend, or the sporting event you go to, all you need to do is count it out. Count five people around you; one of those five will experience a mental illness this year.



According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), of the approximate 5.1 million people living in Colorado, more than 210,000 children and adults live with a serious mental illness. Thousands more in the state are dealing with less severe mental health issues that nonetheless provide challenges.

Raggio said that those numbers only represent a small portion of people who are affected by mental illness.



“In 2011, we served a little under 14,000 people at Colorado West,” she said. “But how many more were impacted by people dealing with mood disorders and substance abuse issues? You could easily triple those numbers.”

With those kinds of statistics, it’s easy to see the importance of the work Colorado West does. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and Mental Health Month this month, Raggio said that as the organization looks back, the agency is more essential than ever.

“It’s about access,” she said, regarding CWRMH’s 13 outpatient clinics that now operate in 10 counties. “We believe that if we are available, [our clients] will come.”

Headquartered in Glenwood Springs, CWRMH has been working since 1972 to address the needs of individuals seeking positive outcomes for a range of mental illnesses. Colorado West now offers a range of services from outpatient mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling to employee assistance programs and school-based programs and education.

In fact, through its partnership with West Slope Casa, which provides alcohol and drug addiction treatment from its base in Glenwood Springs, Colorado West is the largest provider of behavioral health services in northwestern Colorado.

According to CWRMH’s 2010 annual report, the three main disorders that receive the largest percentage of treatment are mood disorders such as bipolar and depression, alcohol use, and anxiety disorders.

CWRMH’s reach is vast. Although most living in Garfield and Pitkin counties know only of Colorado West’s local work, the organization serves eight additional counties: Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Mesa, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit, basically covering the top-left portion of the state.

In addition, in 2004, CWRMH expanded its services even further when it built a new psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction, after three hospitals closed their psychiatric wings, leaving no psychiatric hospital care in the western half of the state. Even though Colorado West incurred a significant debt to do so, the agency was able to gain the funding it needed and has now retired the debt on the facility.

“The hospital not only serves our region, but the entire western half of the state, as well as patients statewide,” Raggio said.

Although mental illnesses are more common than one would initially imagine, other health ailments don’t share the same stigma. Those suffering from afflictions such as bad knees or asthma can receive medical care and treatment without a cloud of judgment hanging overhead.

“A lot of people consider mental illness a character defect,” said Raggio. “They think if the person had enough willpower, they could get themselves out of their depression or their addiction. But that same judgment isn’t applied to someone with diabetes or other types of ailments.”

Raggio said mental disorders still have a ways to go in terms of society’s understanding of various conditions, and how those suffering from mental health issues can recover and lead fulfilling, productive lives.

“Education is one of the best ways to debunk the myths,” she said.

Now that Colorado West has served northwestern Colorado for four decades, what lies ahead for the agency? Raggio said focusing on integrated care, and working on prevention programs are priorities.

“In the next phase, we are working on partnering with other health care entities, integrating the body and mind in terms of providing mental health care,” she said. “And with prevention, we are working on how to promote emotional wellness. We want to take what we’ve learned and researched to teach how to promote emotional health from the start.”


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