Empower Denver: DDPHE launches new strategic behavioral health plan

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DENVER (KDVR) — After a 2019 survey by the Colorado Health Institute showed that nearly 100,000 Denverites experienced poor mental health, the City and County of Denver put together and released the “Road to Wellness: A Strategic Framework to Improve Behavioral Health in Denver,” and this year leaders are hoping to advance that roadmap.

This week, The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment announced a new behavioral health plan based on the Road to Wellness called Empower Denver, which encompasses services for crises such as job loss, substance abuse, and mental illness.

Empower Denver focuses on three main goals:

  • Making city resources related to and supporting behavioral health easily accessible to the public
  • Making information and awareness related to and supporting access to behavioral health resources readily available to the public
  • Promoting consistency in how the city collects, shares, and uses data related to behavioral health

“The moment someone is ready to seek help to overcome behavioral health challenges, they must have access to the resources and support they need,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “It is my hope that Empower Denver will bridge that gap, so that no one in Denver falls through the cracks in their time of greatest need.”

One of Empower Denver’s strategies includes the previously launched mobile behavioral health unit, the “Wellness Winnie.” The Wellness Winnie is a “fun-size RV” that travels through Denver to provide behavioral health and support services, and has already helped over 1,000 Denver residents between August and December of last year.

Empower Denver also hopes to focus on opening a Behavioral Health Solutions Center in spring of this year to provide a 24/7 crisis stabilization and transitional housing program as well as creating a 24/7 care coordination center for those living with behavioral health conditions.

Other goals for Empower Denver include:

  • Diverting those experiencing a behavioral health crisis from jail by providing easy access to appropriate services
  • Launching a behavioral health stigma-reduction campaign 
  • Training communities to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, establishing linkages with schools and community-based mental health agencies and educating individuals about available resources

In a time where COVID-19 can cause many to feel isolated and stressed, advanced mental health resources are more important that ever. A January study by the American Psychological Association showed that about 84% of adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the last two weeks, mainly sadness, anger, and anxiety.

“Our many systems and resources must work together to provide comprehensive care for our residents,” Robert McDonald, Executive Director of DDPHE and Public Health Administrator for the City of Denver said. “Empower Denver outlines a clear path toward collaboration and partnerships that will dovetail to better support and begin to heal those experiencing a behavioral health crisis.”

For more information on both Empower Denver and the Road to Wellness, visit Community and Behavioral Health’s website.

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