Support shows for mental health care at Denver rally
Nearly 30 people from the Western Slope joined approximately 1,500 other Coloradans at a rally to lobby for mental health funding at the State Capitol in Denver on Thursday.
“It was beyond my wildest imagination,” Ken Stein, executive director of Colorado West Regional Mental Health Inc., said of the crowd gathered on the west side of the Capitol building to show their support of mental health funding. “I was expecting less of a turnout. It was overwhelming.”
Stein said he was encouraged by the public’s open support of mental health care.
“It’s such a difference from how mental health issues have been handled in the past,” he said. “Before, it’s generally been dealt with quietly, among families. This was a huge event where people identified themselves publicly as benefiting from mental health care. I think it’s just the beginning of people becoming more open about mental illness and how important treatment is.”
Stein said two legislators – Sen. Doug Linkhart and Rep. Andrew Romanoff – addressed the crowd.
“I’m paraphrasing here, but essentially, the legislators said a measure of the character of the civilization is its care for others through tough times,” Stein said. “They said they realized the importance of taking care of people who need help.”
Stein said 10 to 15 advocates testified in front of the crowd, telling personal stories of the benefits of treatments.
“The irony was that the rally was taking place at the same time as the legislature was proceeding with cuts to the state budget,” Stein said. “The rally was a real public reminder to the legislature.”
Stein said he believes Colorado’s state lawmakers are sympathetic to the needs of those affected by mental health care funding.
“I think the rally stressed to the legislature the impacts of more cuts,” he said. “They need to restore funding or make other decisions in the state budget.”
According to figures from the Mental Health Association of Colorado, more than 66,000 Coloradans with serious mental disorders go without care. Initial proposed restrictions to state spending would remove more than $15 million in funding, according to estimates.
Locally, Colorado West has already had to cut between $250,000 and $300,000 from its programs since July 2002, which Stein said has affected more than 700 patients in the organization’s 10-county region.
Although most of the attendees were from the Front Range, Stein said he and two vans filled with mental health professionals, clients and advocates from the Western Slope attended the rally.
“I was proud we were there to represent western Colorado,” he said. “This issue won’t be put to rest anytime soon.”
Stein said the legislature will continue to study mental health care funding during the next few months and determine what other cuts need to be made. They’ll have to reach a decision about the state’s overall budget and the cuts they’ll need to put in place before July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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