Andrew Romanoff visits Steamboat Springs to talk mental health

Steamboat Springs — For the past two years, Andrew Romanoff has traveled across the state hoping to have a “Conversation with Coloradans” about mental health in their communities.

“This is the second year for our listening tour,” Romanoff said during a recent telephone interview. “We want to hear what the barriers are in our state for mental health care.”

Romanoff was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008 and served as speaker of the house from 2005 to 2008.

But the past several years, the former state representative has shifted gears and is now president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, an influential advocacy group that is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness. The group’s website states it engages policymakers, providers, the public and the press to promote early intervention, expand access to affordable services and eradicate stigma and discrimination.

The group will lead a discussion from 5:15 to 7 p.m. May 23 at Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., and is inviting the public to take part. The group is asking those who want to attend to visit, type Steamboat Springs into the search bar and click on the Find Out More button to RSVP for the event. Those who don’t RSVP are still welcome, but organizers hope to have an idea of the size of the group before they arrive.

For Romanoff, the cause is personal; his cousin, with whom he was close, killed herself in January 2015.

“My cousin left a note and asked us to tell people that (she died) in a car accident,” Romanoff said. “My guess is, she didn’t want anyone to think of her as having a mental illness, or that she was depressed our suicidal. If she had, had any other medical conditions, she would have told us, and we would have gotten her treatment. Mental illness carries this badge of shame that can be deadly. It was in her case.”

It’s one of the reasons he and Mental Health Colorado travel to different communities in Colorado to talk to people who understand.

“We want them to tell us what mental health looks like in Colorado, how well are we doing in treating it and what happens when we don’t,” Romanoff said. ‘”By listening, we learn what’s working and what’s stopping people from getting mental health care. Hopefully, we will learn ways to improve it.”

Many of the ideas are taken back to Colorado lawmakers and used to shape policy that will improve care and, hopefully, reduce the stigma that often surrounds mental health issues in different communities. Romanoff feels it is important to reach out to different communities, because the issues can be very different.

“One of the reasons we are doing the listening tour is because we recognize that most organizations spend most of their time in Denver and often ignore the perspective outside of the metro area,” Romanoff said. “There are unique challenges if you live in Routt County or some other community in a rural town. It’s much harder to find a mental health provider, and the stigma is more acute in a small town where everybody knows your name.

“We hope this tour will give us ideas on how we can tackle both of those problems and create incentives for health care professionals to come to rural towns or use other means to reach out to those who need this help.”

The group also hopes to address the shame and misconceptions surrounding mental illness.

Romanoff and Colorado Mental Health will travel to Steamboat Springs next week to get a better understanding of the community and issues that surround mental illness.

Read more