Rural Colorado Teens Initiate Mental Health Campaign To Support Their Peers

Nov 13, 2019

In response to skyrocketing youth suicide rates, one rural Colorado county is now offering kids two free vouchers to see a counselor at a local mental health center. 

It was a group of teens in Colorado’s Chaffee County who came up with the idea last year.  They pitched it to a local mental health center called Solvista based in Salida. The center agreed not only to participate, but to subsidize the therapy sessions from its own budget. 

“The teen can just call us and say I’d like one of these sessions. And we organize to make that happen,” said Kelsey McNeill, a counselor and program supervisor at Solvista Health.

Kids 12 and older can pick up their two free vouchers at school, the post office, the library, even their local arcade. McNeill says the program is aimed at increasing accessibility and reducing stigmas to mental health care.

“On the voucher it says something like, ‘We all need somebody to talk to sometimes,’ and I just think it’s really cool that youth are encouraging other youth to get support when needed,” she said.

If kids need more than two sessions to deal with their struggles, Solvista helps them sign up for ongoing care and get the financial assistance they may need. 

As far as she’s aware, McNeill says the free voucher program is a first of its kind. She says nearly 40 kids have used the vouchers so far.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.