IMatter is available statewide, but a low number of youths access it in Yampa Valley
By Suzie Romig, Steamboat Pilot
Access to behavioral and mental health services is the number one community health priority identified in the recent 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment. Any additional layer of services available to help local residents with mental health therapy is welcomed by local counselors.
A statewide program for youth, IMatter (YoImporto en español), offers six free counseling sessions from a licensed therapist, but it has been underutilized in the Yampa Valley. The program, operated through Colorado's Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), targets youth 18 and younger or residents 21 or younger if they receive special education services.
It's designed to help young people struggling with anxiety, depression, frustration or the need to talk to an objective, trained therapist. This summer, the state legislature renewed funding for the program to continue through at least June 2023.
Only 27 Routt County youth have used the IMatter service since its inception in October 2021, and less than 10 youth in Moffat County. Services are provided in English and Spanish.
“With a quick mental health survey, youth can gain insight into their emotions,” states IMatter materials. “These evaluations are also used to pair them with the right mental health professional for free, confidential and compassionate therapy sessions.”
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Shelby DeWolfe, behavioral health and restorative practices coordinator for the Steamboat Springs School District, said IMatter is another tool in the toolbox for the community. “There is a high demand and need for mental health services in our community, and we are always working to increase access to mental health services for our students and families. We always want all students and families to be educated and have access to as many mental health resources as possible.”
Gina Toothaker, program director of Mind Springs Health in Steamboat, said she would like to see increased awareness in the valley about IMatter so more kids can receive assistance.
“There is a gap in affordability of services, and in some areas of Colorado, there is also a gap in access,” Toothaker said. “There are not enough therapists who work with kids.”
The 194 counselors currently registered with IMatter live throughout Colorado, and most appointments take place via telehealth, explained Charlotte Whitney, deputy communications director for the BHA. After completing an online survey, youth can choose from recommended counselors and select an appointment time within a two-week window.
Despite low usage numbers in the Yampa Valley, Whitney said the year-old program has been successful so far, offering at least one therapy session to 4,293 youth and more than three sessions to 2,484 youth. The areas with the highest utilization include Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso and Jefferson counties. She said 84% of youth keep their scheduled appointments, and the youth served most commonly are dealing with depression or anxiety.
Whitney noted that school counselors find IMatter especially helpful when school is not in session during holidays and breaks. Children age 12 and older can fill out the online survey on their own. After six free sessions, a care navigator reaches out to participants to see if further assistance is needed.
DeWolfe said the free IMatter service can be a short-term resource for young people needing a sounding board who receive help with stress. She said the district counseling team believes IMatter can provide some support and relief, but “we have not experienced it addressing underlying issues, trauma or family systems work that is often needed.”
IMatter aims to reduce barriers such as costs, stigma and scheduling conflicts. Youth who prefer a more tech-savvy, low-pressure-style of counseling may also gravitate to the program.
DeWolfe said the telehealth-style counseling service has received mixed reviews from local youth and families. “Some say the process of accessing the services and virtual sessions felt impersonal and fell short of their expectations regarding addressing their concerns,” DeWolfe said. “Others have shared that it was what they needed while waiting for in-person, local support options to free up.”
Any organization, from libraries to community centers, may request promotional materials to get the word out about IMatter, Whitney said. Free posters, rack cards, stickers or banners can be shipped at no charge by request through an online form at IMattercolorado.org/about.
IMatter is not a crisis support service. If you need emergency help or are in crisis, call 988, the national crisis line.
If you're looking for prompt support through other types of zero-to-low cost programs, support groups, content or listeners, check out the Moodfuel News Resource Guide and the Moodfuel News Mental Health Events calendar.