Polis Administration’s I Matter Free Mental Health Program Gains Momentum, Addresses Growing Stress and Anxiety Facing Youth
Governor Polis has prioritized behavioral and mental health for all from the first days of his administration, bringing together stakeholders and leaders at the state level to determine how to best streamline Colorado’s behavioral health system in a way that cuts through bureaucracy, increases efficiency, and puts people first.
“Improving mental health and putting people first have been a top priority for our administration, so we are proud that over 1,000 sessions have been conducted since the program launched this Fall. Colorado’s first in the nation, bipartisan I Matter program, is giving our young people the tools they deserve to help manage their mental health and enjoy the Colorado we all love,” said Governor Jared Polis.
Governor Polis discussed the I Matter program in his 2022 State of the State address, sharing real-life stories of Colorado families who have benefited from this program.
Governor Polis signed a bipartisan bill into law in July, establishing this temporary behavioral health services program to provide access to free mental health and substance use disorder services for youth. The law the Governor signed was in direct response to the mental health stressors that children and adolescents are experiencing due to the pandemic, such as heightened anxiety and fear and constant transitions between online and in-person classes.
“The early success of the I Matter program demonstrates that we can make a real impact in our youth mental health crisis when we increase access to support,” said Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “I applaud the hundreds of youth across the state who have courageously taken advantage of these free therapy sessions to prioritize their mental health, especially as the pandemic pressures continue to make the balancing act between school and life more difficult.”
“COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how our youth interact and connect with others,” said Michelle Barnes, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Human Services. “I Matter has given us the ability to reach struggling young people on a scale and with a speed that hasn’t been done before.”
As of January 24, 652 youth had participated in at least one session, 411 in two and 233 in three sessions or more. Youth residing in 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties have participated in the program. The program provides Colorado youth with at least three free behavioral health sessions and as many as six. It also reimburses participating providers, who are licensed clinicians from agencies and independent contractors.
“In our rural area, it is often difficult to get an appointment with a mental health provider quickly,” Ashley Clayton, a counselor at Holyoke JR/SR High School in Phillips County, said. “Many of our students have to drive to Sterling, Ogallala, North Platte, and even Denver to access these services. This program has made a huge difference for them as well as their families. While they have the option to attend in-person sessions, they also have the ability to access these providers using a virtual setting, and this has made an impact on families in that they don’t have to drive anywhere to access these services.” Clayton says the program is breaking down barriers to treatment and helping students grow and overcome their struggles.
I Matter is funded by the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health. Youth and their families can visit IMatterColorado.org or YoImportoColorado.org to schedule free 45-minute therapy sessions, access information about the program, complete brief mental health screenings, select a therapist, and/or reach out to care navigators for further assistance. Counseling is also available in Spanish. Sessions are available seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The program is open to all youth ages 18 years or younger or ages 21 years or younger if receiving special education services. Most of the services are provided via telehealth.
After approximately six sessions, I Matter staff seeks to connect youth to providers for ongoing care, including providers who accept the youth’s insurance if they have it. The program may be able to pay for more than six sessions with a mental health professional, depending on demand and availability.
Anyone wishing to share I Matter in their own communities may do so by accessing the social media posts and ordering campaign materials through the program’s digital toolkit.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. Learn more at coloradocrisisservices.org.