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DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado has launched a new program aimed at helping youth struggling through a mental health crisis.

Anyone 18 and younger — or 21 and younger, if receiving special education services — can sign up for three free mental health sessions.

The program, which launched Wednesday, removes one of the biggest hurdles to seeking out professional help: the cost.

The program, called “I Matter,” has already had more than 100 people sign up. Liz Owens, with the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, said she didn’t know of another program like it in the U.S., where services are free for any youth.

“I have even gotten inquiries from other states being like, ‘How do we get this in my state?’” Owens said.

Colorado lawmakers passed a bill this year to create the program, and $9 million will fund it through summer 2022.

How to enroll in free mental health program for Colorado children, teens

The program comes amid an outcry for addressing mental health problems in kids and teens.

Parents and teens can visit the I Matter website, where they will be asked to fill out a survey. Next, the student is matched with a counselor, followed but the scheduling of three free sessions, most of which will be online.

The state will launch a Spanish version in the next few weeks and already have Spanish-speaking clinicians enrolled.

Children’s Hospital Colorado released this statement about the state of the crisis and this new program:

We’re clearly seeing at Children’s Hospital Colorado the disastrous downstream impacts of an already-broken pediatric mental health system that’s been further strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of emergency for children’s mental health that we declared in May is unfortunately far from over. The Children’s Hospital Colorado inpatient psychiatric unit has been full for well over a year and our emergency departments, inpatient medical units and ICUs continue to admit multiple patients with suicidal ideation. From January through mid-October 2021, across our pediatric system, 70% more children came to our emergency departments due to a mental health crisis, compared to the same time period before the pandemic in 2019.

Since the state declaration in May, Children’s Hospital Colorado has worked together with bipartisan local, state and federal lawmakers, and alongside school partners, primary care providers, families and advocates, to identify funding and policy solutions to meet the immediate and long-term needs.

State lawmakers are currently considering numerous policy and funding proposals that would help address the challenges and redesign the mental health system in Colorado. We thank State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Governor Jared Polis and many others for their leadership in launching the “I Matter Campaign” and for continuing to seek additional solutions that might actualize the creation of an operational system of mental healthcare for kids and families.

Children’s Hospital Colorado