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The Colorado Behavioral Health & Wellness Summit will bring together clinicians, educators, researchers, and policymakers as well as leaders in the field of behavioral health on the campus of the University of Denver October 21 through October 24. The event is a collaboration between the Mental Health Center of Denver, the University of Denver, and Envision:You—an initiative focused on LGBTQ+ behavioral health concerns. 

According to Michael LaFarr, executive director of Health and Counseling at the University of Denver, “The Summit will offer an outstanding set of workshops and sessions designed by individuals working every day to make a difference in the lives of people affected by mental illness and/or a substance use disorder, in addition to providing attendees an opportunity to network with other champions. We hope participants will take away knowledge to implement best practices, policies, and programs to help confront the growing mental health crisis in Colorado, around the nation, and the world.”

Sadly, according to the World Health Organization, mental illness accounts for about one-third of the world’s disability caused by all adult health problems, resulting in enormous personal suffering and socioeconomic costs.

The intersection of substance use and mental health continues to be a challenge in the State of Colorado. It’s estimated that about 20 percent of the state’s adult population—about 832,000 people—are living with a mental health conditions according to a 2019 report from Mental Health America, and nearly 450,000 of them aren’t being treated for that illness.

Moreover, the substance use problem has brought new attention to the issue. The Colorado Health Institute reports an estimated half million Coloradans are dependent on alcohol or have used illicit drugs. What’s clear to community leaders, policymakers, and providers alike is that Colorado’s behavioral health care system is struggling to keep up with the increased need.

“The Summit will engage the Colorado community to break down silos statewide and to bridge gaps in communication and collaboration regarding the delivery of behavioral health services,” Nancy Lorenzon, director of pre-health advising, University of Denver, said. “Additionally, the Summit will feature a series of workshops and trainings focused on the LGBTQ+ community as part of the Envision:You initiative.”

“People in the LGBTQ+ community experience mental health issues at higher rates, including a nearly three times greater incidence of a substance use disorder compared to our heterosexual counterparts,” said Steven Haden with the Mental Health Center of Denver and co-founder of Envision:You.” Steven also added, “There is no single answer for why these disparities exist. Much of the increased rates of behavioral health conditions experienced by the LGBTQ+ community are correlated with interpersonal, institutional, and structural discrimination.”

Decades of research show that individual and chronic experiences of discrimination lead to an increased risk of developing mental health conditions and substance use disorders, both by the individual who experienced discrimination as well as other members of their community who experience a spillover effect when the psychological impact of an event affects more people than just those who personally experienced that event.

The mission of the Envision:You initiative is to support, educate, and empower members of the Colorado LGBTQ+ community living with mental health and substance use disorders. To learn more about Envision:You and the Summit, please visit envision-you.org and click on events.