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University of Denver’s campus became home for clinicians, educators, researchers, and policy makers last week at the Colorado Behavioral Health and Wellness (CBHW) Summit. Those who are leading the way to closing the gaps between substance abuse and mental health got out their notebooks and got to work. For many in the field, the link between behavioral health and the inequities that exist in awareness, advocacy, and access are too tightly bound. This is why Envision:You, Mental Health Center of Denver, and University of Denver joined forces to create a wellness summit unlike anything before it.

CBHW Summit

A classroom full of clinicians, educators, and researchers attend a workshop inside University of Denver’s Sturm Hall.

October 21-24 kicked off the inaugural CBHW Summit on the college campus. Each day held workshops from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. and included a variety of focused topics on facets of the current state of training and clinical practice in mental and general health. Each session narrowed in on demographics of folks who are especially lacking proper access to mental health care, including LGBTQ people and communities notorious for substance abuse disorders.

Come One, Come All

The four-day summit brought in guest speakers from across the nation to share best practices and challenge Colorado mental health care providers with their current policies and procedures. Continuing education-credited workshops like “Safe Prescribing 101/201” with Dr. Christopher Urbina from Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention were available and well-attended. For providers interested in working with, or improving, their care practices for the LGBTQ community, an interactive workshop called “Enhancing Transgender and Nonbinary Affirming Care Practices in Primary Care Settings” was led by LGBTQ health equity trainer Andrew Miller.

CBHW Summit

“Enhancing Transgender and Nonbinary Affirming Care Practices in Primary Care Settings” workshop led by Andrew Miller, MA.

For queer folks, the level of trauma that can accrue over time through mistreatment, misgendering, and misinformed medical and healthcare treatment can create a culture of distrust and fear. This is why the work at CBHW Summit is so important.

Thirteen different, LGBTQ-specific workshops and trainings were hosted by Envision:You, Colorado LGBTQ+ Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Initiative at the CBHW Summit. The way that the intersection of queerness, mental health, and substance abuse is impacting the LGBTQ community at an all-time high made a great impact on all who attended.

The Queer Facts

A 2017 Gallup Poll identified approximately 4.3 percent of Colorado’s 5.2 million residents as LGBTQ, and we know that number has risen in the last two years. With the progressive political landscape creating a safe haven for queer folks, Colorado, and Denver specifically, have become prime destinations for those looking to live in relative safety.

CBHW Summit

Ashley Lorraine Blewitt-Golsch, MA led the workshop “Transgender 101: What You Need to Know Before Working with Transgender Populations.”

It is also well-known that the LGBTQ community encounters higher instances of substance abuse and addiction that that of their straight, cisgender counterparts. In fact, a 2015 research report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that adults defined as “sexual minority” (meaning lesbian, gay, or bisexual) were more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults (39.1 percent versus 17.1 percent) to have used any illicit drug in the past year.

Furthermore, LGBTQ people are at a higher risk than the general population for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts and 48 percent of all transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the past 12 months, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

CBHW Summit

Envision:You banner in the hallway of University of Denver’s Sturm Hall.

Enough is Enough

Through the partnerships of Envision:You, University of Denver, and Mental Health Center of Denver, the education and resources that are becoming more and more available couldn’t be coming at a more vital time. Through community engagement and fundamental tool-building, CBHW Summit has undoubtedly chipped away at the stigma that still exists in regard to mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Additionally, policymakers have the chance to make a major impact on the generation that is now, and will trickle down to the youth who so desperately need this reform. While the nation is at odds with the administration in Washington, and confusing decisions are made on a daily basis, we in Colorado continue to have hope that things will, in fact, get better.

*Photos by Veronica L. Holyfield