Mental Health Colorado, Governor’s office kick off ‘Mental Health Month’ with focus on treatment access for rural Coloradans


May 1, 2019

Media Contact: Aubree Hughes, 405-615-3845

Mental Health Colorado, Governor’s office kick off ‘Mental Health Month’ with focus on treatment access for rural Coloradans

DENVER—Key allies joined together today to declare May as ‘Mental Health Month.” Mental Health Colorado’s theme for May is “Navigating the System: Access for all Coloradans.”

“As a statewide advocacy organization, Mental Health Colorado is committed to ensuring access to mental health and substance use treatment,” said Nancy VanDeMark, Mental Health Colorado interim CEO. “Nearly half a million Coloradans don’t get the mental health or substance use treatment they need, and the shortage is most acute in rural parts of our state.”

Gov. Jared Polis highlighted the need to reach out to rural and agricultural communities to make sure their voices in behavioral health are heard. He said their administration has been blown away by the number of applicants to the new Behavioral Health Task Force, with thousands expressing interest.

“In traveling to rural communities, health care has been the number one cause of concern by far,” said Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera. “We have an obligation to make sure every Coloradan has access to the mental health services that they need. Mental health and substance use issues are a statewide concern for urban, rural, and frontier communities. We are in this together.”

Maggie Hanna has been an active advocate for mental health in rural communities. Maggie was born and raised on her family’s fourth generation cow-calf operation in Hanover, Colorado. She shared her story of how she lost her father to suicide when she was just 9 years old.

“His name was Kirk Hanna, born and raised on Hanna Ranch.” Hanna said. “At 43, facing a down cattle market, family challenges, and immense pressure on the family ranch—six days before Christmas—he took his life. A week before his death, he had been found with a gun. [My mom] drove him to Colorado Springs and met with a health care professional. He was released with sleeping pills and an appointment—one he would never make.”

“The ability for a neighbor to look at you and say, ‘I don’t think you are doing well, and I want to support you’ and the ability to talk openly about suicide is something that is new to our [agriculture] environment, but I think we have made great strides,” Hanna said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We have to lead the way, today, in Colorado.”

As Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, Kate Greenberg plays an important role in supporting the administration’s goals of increased focus on behavioral health and on the next generation of Colorado’s agricultural producers.

“The mental health crisis looks much different in the agricultural world,” Greenberg said. “Running a farm or a ranch comes with uncontrollable and often devastating challenges. We continue to be a committed partner in not only raising awareness about the unique mental health challenges affecting farmers and ranchers in our state, but also in taking action.”

Just this month, Governor Polis appointed Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services Michelle Barnes to chair his newly created Behavioral Health Task Force.

“This new administration, right out of the gate, said behavioral health is an area of focus,” Barnes said. “The task force will create a blueprint to transform the behavioral health system so that it works for all Coloradans. We know we have to do better, and I am eager to lead the task force that will embrace diverse perspectives on a new vision for behavioral health for our state.”

“We’re here today to focus on how we can better serve rural and frontier Colorado.” said Frank Cornelia, Colorado Behavioral Health Care Council Director of Government and Community Relations. “Challenges that come with serving rural and frontier Colorado include workforce, the stigma of asking for help or seeking professional services, geographic isolation, and program sustainability. We are pleased to be partnering with the state, legislators, and Mental Health Colorado to address these challenges.”

Mental Health Colorado and the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health announced a new resource for Coloradans starting their recovery journey, available at

Mental Health Colorado is the state’s leading advocate in promoting mental health, ending stigma, and ensuring equitable access to mental health and substance use services. For more information, visit

View the full recap. For media interviews, contact Aubree Hughes at 405-615-3845.