1990s: Major Policy shifts

The 1990s saw concerted efforts at both the state and national level to increase public awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness. In the fall of 1989, MHAC became one of 29 community partners with the National Institute of Mental Health to promote the Depression/Awareness, Recognition and Treatment Program (D/ART) through public forums, work site programs, distribution of materials, and a variety of other creative ways. The program’s primary goal was to help the public recognize the symptoms of depressive disorders and to teach them where and how to access treatment. The D/ART program also informed primary care physicians and mental health specialists about the latest treatment options for depression.

The inaugural Mile High Friendship Walk in 1990 helped raise public awareness and fight stigma. Co-sponsored by NAMI Colorado, the Colorado Psychiatric Society and MHAC, community participation in the Friendship Walk doubled between 1990 and 1993.

Events in the 1990s and the first few years of the 21st century caused our state and our nation significant strain, stress, grief. In 1991, MHAC and its volunteers were there to provide information on support services to military families during the Gulf War.

In 1999, closer to home, Littleton and surrounding communities endured the unfathomable – when two students at Columbine High School took their own lives after fatally shooting 13 students and staff and injuring many others. Again, MHAC was there to assist during this crisis. MHAC provided assistance to the community by helping to organize support groups, staffing call-in mental health help lines, and producing a booklet about the crisis for parents entitled, “A Partner for Parents: A Handbook for Healing,” in collaboration with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. This booklet was distributed to more than 70,000 households in the area.

Similar support was provided in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Colorado wildfires, and the war in Iraq.

Toward the end of the 1990s and into the 21st century, MHAC developed a strong relationship with an umbrella organization for the statewide consumer group, the Wellness and Education Coalition and Advocacy Network of Colorado (WE CAN!). WE CAN!, now called the Colorado Mental Wellness Network (CMWN), is a collaboration of MHAC, individuals experiencing mental health issues, and state mental health services.

MHAC’s Public Policy & Strategic Initiatives division also developed a training program, with the goal that at least ten people facing mental health conditions would testify at the state Capitol each year. The purpose was to ensure that every legislator in the state would have a relationship with a constituent who is directly impacted by mental health.

While health care reform was debated at the national level, local efforts were also underway. Specifically, ColoradoCare – a study on health care reform – was released by the Colorado governor’s office in 1993. In response, MHAC spearheaded the Coalition for Mental Health in Health Care Reform, an umbrella group of 30 mental health organizations working to advocate for appropriate and adequate mental health care in state and national reform efforts. The Coalition represented all aspects of the mental health community and was instrumental in writing a position paper on the need for equal mental health benefits. One of its major victories came in 1997, when Governor Roy Romer signed HB 1192 into law. This law required insurance companies to cover six biologically based mental disorders, establishing what is known as partial or limited parity.