During her campaign for Mesa County commissioner, Janet Rowland was struck by how often the subject of mental health services registered as a concern among voters. So she made it one of the top items on her agenda.

She’s since pulled together a “roundtable” — a dozen people in Mesa County who have first-hand experience with how barriers to mental health services lead to widespread impacts within the community.

When a person can’t get the help he or she needs, the effects trickle into schools, the workplace, hospitals, the county jail, the courts and on and on. As insidious as this multiplier effect is, the biggest concern is for the individuals white-knuckling their way through a crisis.

Members of the roundtable — representing public health, law enforcement, Mind Springs, D51, the Department of Human Services, Hilltop, the local state district court and the National Alliance on Mental Illness — recognize there’s no magic solution. The problem is too complex, too siloed, too unwieldy to tackle at once.

That’s where the public comes in. The roundtable has devised a community mental health assessment — starting with a survey — as a way to identify practical interventions, or ways to ensure that everyone in the county has access to the services they need.

It reminds us of the old adage: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Roundtable members know that Mesa County has a high suicide rate and that the state of Colorado funds mental health and substance abuse disorder at one of the lowest rates in the nation. They know the pandemic is making an already overburdened system worse. They know that Mesa County has a shortage of providers. They know that high local poverty rates correlate with a higher incidence of mental health and substance abuse issues.

But they have to start somewhere.

“This process can help us identify issues from the community’s perspective,” said Diana Williams, the deputy director of Mesa County Public Health. “We know those structural issues and why things are the way they are, but when was the last time that we sat down and asked specifically about barriers? Those are the answers we can turn into solutions. Hearing from the community has a lot of value in starting that process.”

The survey is quick and easy. The more people who participate, the stronger the data will be. Even those who have had no problems accessing services provide clues about disparities within the system.

Anyone who is concerned about how mental health services affect the quality of life in our community should take the survey. That’s nearly everyone.

To take the survey, visit https://bit.ly/37uhfD4. Residents who wish to participate in the survey but don’t have access to internet or an electronic device, can call 970-256-1515 to arrange for a paper survey.

On March 7, the survey will close and analysis begins. Health officials and roundtable participants hope to identify trends and any common themes that emerge from the survey.

Next, the county will host a series of focus groups next month to provide more of an in-depth look at the challenges in the system. In April, a comprehensive roundtable discussion is planned between mental health services consumers and providers that will review all the data collected.

We view this as important work and hope the community takes advantage of the opportunity to be part of a vital dialogue on our community’s well-being.