Cassandra Armas is a frontline worker fighting to rein in a crisis. Her job, as an in-school therapist was created by a community-wide effort in Eagle County to change the bleak narrative of rural childhood mental health in the region by putting therapists in the schools. Today there are 17 therapists who see students at every school in the district. In 2017 there were none.
“They come into my office, and we have a whole session here at school and then they’re able to go back to class or go on about their day without having to miss much of school,” Armas said.
Kids all over Colorado are living with mental health struggles. According to state data from 2017, more than 15% of Colorado children require mental health care, and not all of them get it. Seventeen percent of high schoolers have considered suicide. And that was before the pandemic exacerbated the problem. The Your Hope Center runs the in-school therapy program. It started in 2018, with two clinicians serving just two of the schools in the district. They’ve since expanded to 17 clinicians serving all 18 district schools.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the efforts to address community-wide mental health in Eagle County got its first major stress test. As childhood mental health across the country deteriorated over video-conferenced classrooms, Eagle County seemed to have a head start.
“Having these clinicians’ already established relationships with the students, I think our community came out of the pandemic over the last few years in a better place because we already had those services in place,” Dana Erpelding, of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, explained.
Your Hope Center is a community partner of Vail Health’s Eagle Valley Behavioral Health.