As a state legislator, I hear facts, figures and anecdotes about substance abuse, mental health and recovery frequently. I work on issues like jail overcrowding, homeless youth and people in crisis.
But as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, these issues are even closer to me.
My sister has struggled with addiction, substance abuse, mental health for much of her life. It wasn’t until recently that we found out it stems from sexual trauma. I have always felt so powerless to help her, her kids and our family.
What I knew is that she is amazing, has a huge heart, but found herself in tough situations and, eventually, jail. Her addiction and mental health issues made it hard for her to break the cycle of incarceration and addiction.
I watched my sister struggle and then watched her kids struggle too. These issues are generational and show up in everyday things. When my nephew had a hard time with his girlfriend, there weren’t words to deal with it because it wasn’t taught in the household. He lacked hope that things could be different; better.
As a family, we all found different ways to try to help. I am a legislator, my brother is a doctor. My brother has focused on pain management without addiction. Good care without the risk of addiction. He will tell you that we cannot address physical health care without addressing mental health issues.
And as a legislator, I dug in to see how I could affect change too.
People call me about their sisters, their brothers, their moms, dads, aunts, friends – the list goes on. The hardest part of my job is to tell people I can’t help. It is shocking and shameful that in order to get people into treatment, people must commit a crime and go to drug court or threaten to kill themselves and get into a hospital. That is absolutely not the way we should be treating people and we CAN do better.
We do have the power to do so much. A lot of that is Caring 4 Denver, we have the power to help and make a difference for our family, our friends and our community.
In 10 years, I envision a Denver where you don’t have to get on a waitlist when you are in crisis. And when you are in crisis, you already have a relationship with someone in the health field. You can offer a helping hand to people in need when they need or want it.
I want to see wellness checks in neighborhoods, see that every school has mental health treatment. Resources would popping up in unexpected places like museums and businesses.
Ensuring there are services for people who need them and reducing the stigma around mental health will have an impact on crime, productivity, and our sense of well-being and happiness.
Denver is said to be one of the best cities, one of the fittest places but we also have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. We really do have the #PowerTo help and voting “yes” for Caring 4 Denver is the next step.
Photo credit; Caleb Alvarado