Eagle County leads statewide mental health funding trend
To learn more about the various mental health ballot questions in Colorado this fall, visit mentalhealthcolorado.org/ballot2018.
EAGLE COUNTY — When Eagle County voters approved a 2017 ballot measure instituting sales and excise taxes on marijuana products with the proceeds dedicated to mental health services, they may have started a movement in Colorado.
This fall, 10 counties across the state passed measures to improve mental health services in their communities.
“We had a few organizations give us a call about community engagement,” said Eagle County Public Health Director Chris Lindley. “Seeing our success the year before made them more confident.”
Aubree Hughes, communications associate at Mental Health Colorado, agreed with that assessment. Mental Health Colorado is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization providing technical assistance to communities seeking mental health funding.
“Eagle County is the first we know of to pass a ballot measure solely for mental health,” Hughes said. “We talked a lot about the Eagle County measure and we continue tracking what has been done (since it passed).”
Both Lindley and Hughes said the biggest impact from the Eagle County 2017 ballot measure is the movement among communities to take charge of their local mental health needs.
“Locally we have all realized we can’t sit back and wait for the federal government or even the state government to help us,” Lindley said. “I think it’s (the number of mental health ballot issues this fall) a clear indication of the rising awareness across the state and the nation about the dire condition of our mental health system.”
“We can no longer ignore mental health and we have found criminalizing it or demonizing it doesn’t work,” Hughes said. “It’s time to heal it.”
Mental health movement
Colorado is seeing improvement in its mental health system. According to the 2017 Mental Health America report, Colorado ranked 43rd in overall mental health services. In 2018, the state ranked 29th.
“We have made progress, but we should be leading the nation in mental health,” Hughes said.
This fall’s statewide ballot questions will assist in that goal. There were 11 measures presented to the voters in 2018 and 10 of them passed.
“That represents a record amount of money,” Hughes said.
Victories in Denver, Larimer, San Miguel and Summit counties will steer $67 million to the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. The largest of the four was the successful sales tax measure in Denver County that will steer 25 cents from every $100 purchase to mental health services.
Voters also agreed to fund school-based mental health programs in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties; jail-based services in Boulder County; and community resources in Pitkin County.
Another lesson from the Eagle County effort centers on collaboration and leveraging funds. The local marijuana taxes are estimated to bring in $425,000 in 2018. Moving forward, Lindley said the county estimates marijuana tax collections will reach $510,000 in 2019 and $600,000 in 2020.
In 2018, the county commissioners also allocated $500,000 from the general fund for mental health services. The total available in 2018 is $925,000.
According to Mental Health Colorado President and CEO Andrew Romanoff, communities across the state are recognizing it is much more cost-effective to prevent or treat mental illness rather than criminalizing or ignoring it.
“Now our next task begins,” Romanoff said. “Ensuring that these dollars are wisely spent. We measure our success not by the laws we pass but by the lives we improve as a result.”
Lindley believes local efforts will make the difference in Colorado’s overall mental health abyss. After all, he said, voters approve local funding knowing that community organizations are best positioned to make a difference.
“These are our communities and we must take care of our communities,” Lindley said.