DENVER (KDVR) — Before the pandemic, Colorado was lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to mental health services, and over the past two years the situation has gotten worse.

“Colorado was in a mental health crisis prior to the pandemic due to difficulties in access and care,” said CEO of Mental Health Colorado Vincent Atchity during an interview on FOX31 NOW.

Suicide is currently the leading cause of death in young Coloradans, but when it comes to service availability for adults, Colorado looks like one of the worst states in the country.

Colorado ranked 51st out of all the states and Washington D.C. when it comes to need for care compared to access to care for adults, according to Mental Health America’s annual review.

“That data reflect pre-pandemic data,” Atchity said. “By the time the analysts complete their work and produce those state ranks, it’s two-year-old data. Things were bad and things are now worse and that’s very concerning.”

Atchity points to the Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force that recommends spending strategies for federal dollars that can be dedicated to mental health as a positive change, along with the creation of the new Behavioral Health Administration.

Another positive sign for improvement is the rollout of 988 coming this summer, the new national suicide prevention lifeline.

“One of the things we’re expecting 988 to accomplish is a culture change,” Atchity said. “And it won’t happen overnight, but in time 988 will become as familiar to people as 911 will become.”

Atchity said he hopes the new lifeline will change the way we feel about mental health and mental health crises.

But if there’s one area Atchity said needs improvement over the next year, it’s the growing issue of substance abuse and the lack of treatment for struggling Coloradans.

“One of the uppermost in mind these days given our substance use crisis is state shortages when it comes to managing substance use and substance misuse,” Atchity said. “We have serious shortages in access to that kind of detox rehabilitation and recovery care for young people and adults.”