On Fighting Cynicism

  • Susan Greene is a reporter, editor and coach for the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab). She was editor and executive director of The Colorado Independent before it merged with COLab and a longtime reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. She was selected as a 2020-2021 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, and is the inaugural recipient of the Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grant for Mental Health Investigative Journalism.

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Dear reader, 

My faith is rattled lately. 

This is not so much a crisis of the spirit (although, like many of us, I’ve had my moments these past few years). It’s more of a shaken trust in some of the institutions that exist for the sole purpose of helping the most vulnerable among us — and that are, instead, turning too many away.  

I’m not naive. I know that every day lately brings news of one kind of safety-net failure or another. This is a painful awareness that state government did not step in and stop those failures as Colorado became the state with the nation’s highest rate of adult mental illness and lowest access to care. Rather, it bent time and again to the will of the trade group representing the 17 private community mental health centers that are supposed to serve as the core of the state’s behavioral health safety-net system. I fight, too, the cynicism that creeps in as the state promotes a new department promising much-needed fixes while watering down plans for more oversight and accountability.

And the affected? They are the powerless screaming into the wind. 

I cannot tell you — not without crying — how many of them I have heard from in the aftermath of our recent investigation into the state’s behavioral health care system. The third part of our On Edge series, which focused on Mind Springs — a community mental health center that is failing to serve some Western Slope counties — started publishing Sunday in news outlets throughout the state. After it, just like after Part One, came the outpouring from people who had been denied care, even for acute mental health needs.

They feel invisible. And if you ask me, now, why I spent six months on this investigation, why COLab gave me the time to devote day after day to getting to know these people and digging through data about the centers, why we worked with newsroom partners across the state to collaborate and co-publish, why we ask for your support to keep this nonprofit work viable, it is because we, collectively, have the power to make what has been invisible visible. Even in a time of rattled faith, the fact is that if I did not believe in this statewide collaborative effort of bringing complicated and long-ignored problems to light, I would not be doing this work. 

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Colorado crisis hotline at 1-844-493-TALK(8255).
There is no wrong reason to reach out.

The project has prompted a growing list of local officials statewide to call for swift and meaningful mental health reform. And it has inspired current and former clients of and clinicians with community mental health centers to speak out. 

It has also triggered some curious responses among community mental health centers. Last week, after our first story questioned the Mental Health Center of Denver’s spending priorities as it turns people in crisis away, the nonprofit whose CEO made upwards of $819,000 as of the last financial disclosure announced “Something Big Is Coming.” It is changing its name, logo and colors in a rebranding effort. It didn’t disclose the cost, but I’m already hearing from clients and clinicians who are upset that money is being spent on branding instead of people.

Cynicism has antidotes. 

One is action. The extent to which meaningful change comes about depends largely on you. You can reach out to state lawmakers, who will be crafting laws this session about the role Gov. Polis’ new Behavioral Health Administration will take in improving access to care statewide, or directly to Gov. Polis, who is poised to appoint a director of the new state agency in the coming days. You can also ask your county officials who have not yet demanded reform what, if anything, they’re doing to prevent people in your community from falling through Colorado’s tattered mental-health safety net.

The other antidote is gratitude. I want to thank the hundreds of people statewide who’ve made themselves vulnerable by coming forward about their struggles to find last-resort mental health care. There is much to learn from those among us who have lots of reasons to lose faith and give up, but who don’t.

Susan Greene

This post was sent as a letter to our email subscribers on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. Join our email list to learn more about COLab and the work we are doing.