Why Colorado Is Providing Kids Under The Age Of 18 With Free Therapy Sessions

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The New Initiative In Colorado To Provide Teens With Free Therapy Sessions To Deal With Mental Illness

It’s becoming cliche to say that we have a mental health crisis in America. Without anyone seemingly willing to step up and do anything about it, though, we can all expect to be hearing about it with increasing regularity for a very long time. 

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Colorado is one state that’s finally doing the right thing when it comes to mental health

A single state has entered the game with a modest plan to change the status quo. Colorado has created a plan to provide teens with three free therapy sessions. Citing the pandemic as the motivation, House Bill 1258 provides a free mental health screening and up to three additional appointments to citizens of the state who are 18 and under. 

Kids need mental health interventions early

Mental health isn’t just a problem that adults face. In fact, half of all mental illnesses crop up in kids by the time they're just 14 years old. Most of the rest develop before someone reaches the age of 24. An estimated 50-80% of school children are affected by mental health issues. 

Sadly, less than half of those youth and young adults who’ve developed mental illness ever receive any help for it. And, in school-aged children, suicide is the second leading cause of death behind unintentional injury. 

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Early detection is key. While many mental health conditions can’t be “cured” in the traditional sense, they can be treated.

With regular effort and a solid support system, kids can successfully navigate mental disorders in the same way adults can.

There are multiple coping strategies and therapies specifically developed for kids that can make a huge difference in the long run. 

Make a plan to deal with your child’s specific circumstances

One of the best ways to navigate mental health issues in teens is to develop a plan that caters to their needs. Working with their school to create strategies to sidestep challenges is important, and can lead to academic success that could otherwise remain out of reach. 

Things like flexible deadlines and teacher awareness can be simple solutions to ongoing problems. 

Therapy and medication can help, as can strong support from family and friends. Too often, kids are too ashamed of their mental health struggles, often associating their problems with a sense of personal failure. 

The burden of secrecy creates further anxiety about mental health in teens

Creating a system where mental illness is addressed openly is very important, especially in children and teens.

Basic awareness of what to do when a problem arises should be universally available in schools, religious centers, and other youth organizations so that anyone who finds themselves struggling can access services to help them. 

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That’s a pretty low bar. A more significant challenge presents itself in the reality that even those adults kids are told to come to often don’t themselves know how to help them.

Parents can be as unfamiliar with mental health services as their children, and teachers are often untrained in recognizing signs and pointing students in the right direction. 

School counselors are the obvious choice for early intervention, but most of them focus solely on academics. And even when they have the right information to help young adults and children find resources, there simply aren’t enough of them to help every student who needs it. Across the country, on average, there’s just one counselor for every 461 students

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Even with the best information and resources available, oftentimes it isn’t nearly enough to even make a dent.

That’s why funding and education has to come from the top down, and existing services must be expanded and normalized early on in schools. 

States can take the lead to protect our kids

In the case of Colorado’s new teen mental health initiative, there’s plenty of room for it to grow.

Turns out that even though the money isn’t enough to create a sustained program for every teen who wants in, the state will work with kids to find them a therapist they can afford after their three visits are over. 

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This is a great start that comes at a pivotal moment when schools are preparing to open their doors and return students to the classroom. Providing resources for anyone struggling with their mental health to be evaluated and allowed to adjust after a prolonged quarantine and a year filled with remote learning and isolation is the right thing to do. 

Hopefully, Colorado will be able to find more money to expand the program, and other states will take notice and follow suit. Solving America’s mental health crisis isn’t going to be easy, but tackling it early as it manifests in school-aged children is an intelligent place to begin.

Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.