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Young Coloradans can now get free mental health counseling sessions

Posted at 5:16 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 21:22:14-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado has launched a new program to help address the mental health crisis among children.

"I Matter" connects anyone between 12 and 18 with a licensed behavioral health clinician. Children under 12 can also use the service but need a parent to do so, and young adults who are receiving special education services can access the free help up to age 21.

"I was involved in a lot of activities and sports, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything was canceled. We weren't allowed to do anything any longer, and being from a small-town community, there is nothing much to do besides sports so that caused
a lot of mental health issues in my rural area," said Kierra Ehnes, Julesburg High School.

Ehnes says the pandemic took a heavy toll on the mental health of children and teens in her area.

"What is noticed is that they (kids) stopped connecting to school ZOOM calls, they stopped communication to their friends, they stopped coming out of their bedrooms, they didn't want to be a part of anything. They felt trapped and like there was no way out," said . "We had a lot of teen suicides happen in our rural area, and that never happens. Those were people that I played against and people I went to school with."

It motivated Ehnes to help launch the new website "I Matter." There had been a bill passed last legislative session allocating $9 million to start the new program.

"In my role, I was able to bring an idea to life by sharing real-life stories of what is happening to real children," said Ehnes.

The 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that more than a third of Colorado high school students felt so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing usual activities for at least two weeks at a time.

"There was actually a day a few weeks ago that every single hospital in Colorado Springs was on pediatric mental health divert. Meaning if you were having a mental health crisis, and a kid in Colorado Springs, you were going to Pueblo or Denver," said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, (D) Commerce.

To access the new program, parents or teens can visit the "I Matter" website where they'll be asked to take a confidential survey. Afterward, they'll be matched with a clinician that best supports their needs. If the child is 11 or younger, a parent or guardian would have to fill out the survey. The state will launch a Spanish version in the next few weeks and already have Spanish-speaking clinicians enrolled.

"The statute also allows us to potentially pay for more than three sessions, depending on demand and therapists availability," said Liz Owens, Colorado Department of Human Services Behavioral Office.

She expects the program to help an estimated 10,000 youth.

"I think we have normalized that not being OK is being OK. The first step to being able to identify this is to get help," said Ehnes.