DENVER — On Saturday, Colorado picked up what President Obama started ten months ago at the White House, a national conversation about mental health in the United States.
Forty-five million Americans, and one in four Coloradans, will suffer from mental illnesses, like depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Across the state, over a hundred individuals gathered Saturday as part of the Creating Community Solutions effort.
As a baby, then a boy, a teenager and young man, Julie English had such high hopes and dreams for her 33-year-old son, Alan Cardenas.
“The last three weeks of his life were his worse,” said English. “His cries were so desperate.”
Alan was bipolar and English didn’t know it. She said Medical privacy laws kept her from learning her son was suicidal when he was younger and served in the Navy.
“I chose not to take his phone calls because I played the tough love mom. And I didn’t realize what he was going through,” she said.
English never imagined Cardenas would die on the streets of downtown Denver last year during a manic episode in which four people held him down, suffocating him.
“You wish you could go over and do it again. But you can’t,” said English. “There’s no going back. And he fell through every crack that he could.”
This prompted her to be part of a statewide conversation on mental health.
The group of 120 gathered at the History Colorado Saturday to discuss the challenges the mentally ill face, including the stigma.
“When people have a heart condition people come out and support them. But when people are diagnosed, maybe with bipolar, people don’t come out and support them. But there is no difference in that,” said Karen Prestia with Mental Health Center of Denver.
The group also agreed there aren’t enough resources, too few providers, rigid privacy laws that prevent families from helping loved ones and expensive medications.
“My son said medication cost too much and he refused to take it,” said English. “If you look at that cost, that was nothing compared to cost of his funeral.”
Experts wanted to educate others that mental illness is a part of life.
“People will be diagnosed, they will be treated and life goes on,” said Prestia.
But it’s a life that can end, if we don’t understand how to help.
“Listen. Hear your children,” said English. “We all need that help.”
The groups, which also met in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Glenwood Springs, will come together again in May to share information and develop action plans to better help those battling mental illness.