Finders, mental health survivors
How Grand County is trying to increase patients’ access to local services
If you’ve never struggled with depression, it’s almost impossible to empathize with those who do. So here is a description that might help. Imagine spending 70 percent of your daily mental energy fighting not to hate yourself. A task of that magnitude invades every element of your life. The longer it continues, the worse it gets. And for some, if depression is left untreated, suicide may feel like the only relief. Having depression or anxiety in a place like Grand County can make the situation even worse, because — on the surface, at least — it can seem like there’s little help.
Amanda Farrell is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who decided to fill part of the void in 2021. At the time, Farrell was seeing patients exclusively in her office in Golden, but recognizing a need for more in-person specialized psychiatric care in Grand County, she decided to open an office in Winter Park. After she arrived, Sue Johnson reached out. Johnson is the Grand County behavioral health navigator, employed by Middle Park Health. She works with the Grand County Rural Health Network to help people in need of health services find them as quickly and easily as possible.
Johnson was on the lookout for ways to beef up Grand County’s mental health offerings and to connect locals to them. For years in the county, if you had a mental health emergency, you had few options for help. You could deal with it yourself — rarely a good idea. You could call a hotline — statistically a solid resource, but also not ideal.
In some cases, you could receive help from the county’s EMS services. Or you could go to the 24-hour emergency room at the Kremmling or Granby hospital, and, if your situation was dire enough, be connected with an in-person crisis clinician dispatched from Mind Springs Health, provider of outpatient counseling and therapy for behavioral health concerns like PTSD, depression and anxiety in Granby.
But even if you were helped initially, there was a question of what you would do next.
The in-person clinician might create a safety plan for you with your family, help you set up therapy or assist you in getting follow-up treatment with a primary care doctor. What they couldn’t do, though, was give you the specialized in-person psychiatric care many with clinical depression need.
That’s where Farrell steps in, because she can both provide ongoing, in-person therapy and write prescriptions for medications. What’s more, she is still the only entity in the county doing both that also takes insurance.
Dr. Jessica Stern is a psychiatrist who has lived and worked full-time in Grand County for two years, and who specializes in anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety and eating disorders in addition to commonly working with depression and anxiety.
“Most people see me for combination treatment as well as just therapy or medication management alone,” she says. She does not take insurance, however.
Farrell acknowledges that not everyone in Grand County has insurance, making even her practice out of reach for some. But the Grand County Rural Health Network offers “Aches & Pains” vouchers, which provide primary care visits, mental health visits and prescription assistance, plus wellness exams and dental visits for children. Both Farrell and Stern take these vouchers.
“Yet (Aches & Pains) is not a very well-known program,” says Farrell. “When our office opened, we thought we were going to get a flood of people using the vouchers, but it appears many in the county don’t know them. Sue (Johnson) said it’s relatively easy for people to get the vouchers and come to see me for medications. They can get therapy appointments for free. I think there are more resources than people realize.”
That seems to be one of the cruxes when it comes to finding Grand County mental health services, but Farrell hopes it will soon change, with the help of the Grand Foundation. It recently established a H.O.P.E. Fund, which will pay for a new countywide mental health resources website with easy-to-access to information on local services.
“Currently HealthyGrandCounty.org lists mental health providers, but it needs to be updated,” says Johnson. “So the goal is to work with a local nonprofit to get a new website built. Grand Foundation will provide the funding. I’m hoping to get that up and running this summer.”
Meanwhile, those in need of immediate help can use the current website, which does list numerous resources for assistance. You can also email Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 970-531-4669 for help. And Farrell says you can find local providers fast at PsychologyToday.com by using the filter function on the homepage to input exactly what you’re looking for.
“Enter ‘therapist’ or ‘prescriber,’ where you live, what insurance you have and your problem,” says Farrell. “Providers advertise, and I will tell you 80 to 90 percent of them are on it.”
Johnson agrees but with a caveat.
“Sometimes inputting too many things will turn up zero search results. But if you just search Grand County, most of our providers will come up. There will be 20 telehealth providers, though, and if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, (wading through the list) can feel too overwhelming. On HealthyGrandCounty.org you can find first-responders or peer supporters — from local agencies trained specifically to help with mental health calls,” she says.
If you don’t have insurance, you can get an “Aches & Pains” voucher from the Grand County Rural Health Network by calling them and having an application emailed to you.
“Most mental health providers and all primary care offices in Grand County also have them,” says Johnson. Both Farrell and Stern take them. Johnson will help you fill them out.
“If someone calls us and says I don’t have insurance but I need to get in, our office manager will schedule them within a couple of days,” adds Farrell. “The Rural Health Network is amazing at reaching out to verify that they qualify for the vouchers. And they do a good job of covering medications.”
To speak with someone about your mental health immediately, Farrell says text TALK to Colorado Crisis Services at 38255 and someone will text you back to set up a call. Or you can call them, at 1-844-493-TALK (8255). The number is a 24/7/365 support line for anyone affected by a mental health, substance use or emotional crisis. All calls are connected to a mental health professional that will provide immediate support and connections to further resources.
And importantly, Johnson adds, “They have a hotline and warmline. You can press 1 if you’re suicidal or homicidal and they’ll give to you the right person. But but if you’re having a panic attack or have been sober for a week but are really craving alcohol, you can press 2 and just talk to someone—it’s confidential and free. Family members can call the hot line, too, if they have someone they’re worried about. Of course if there’s an immediate danger call 911 and law enforcement will respond, but if it’s non-urgent you can call (the other resource).”
Farrell also provided a list of self-help items individuals can do during emotionally challenging times:
Exercise: “If you do it for 30 minutes a day, you secrete a protein called BDNF that’s a natural antidepressant, helps with anxiety, and increases cognitive functioning, ” she says. “Go outside and work out to the point that it’s hard to maintain a conversation.”
Avoid substances like marijuana and alcohol: “Alcohol is a depressant,” says Farrell. “In the moment, it may make you feel better, but we definitely see rebound depression and anxiety. And marijuana can exacerbate depression and anxiety.”
Get enough sleep: “We take it for granted, but enough —seven hours is the new recommended amount, but I definitely need eight — can aid in mental clarity and good feelings.”
Monitor, and limit, social media time: “There are lots of studies associating increased time on social media with increased anxiety and depression,” says Farrell. “Whatever you can do to put your phone down and connect one-on-one with another person will help counter these.”
Practice mindfulness: “Sit with your eyes closed and focus on your five different senses. It helps ground you and bring you to the present moment. It’s particularly helpful when people are highly anxious,” Farrell says.
Keep a gratitude journal: “It helps you focus on the positive aspects of your life as opposed to perseverating on negativity or what we perceive as our problems,” says Farrell.
Johnson reiterates that a plethora of local mental health services can be found at HealthyGrandCounty.org.
You can find Farrell at email@example.com or 970-760-7884, and Stern at 720-697-9285.
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