Mental Health for Colorado’s Youth Takes the Spotlight with New Position Paving the Way for Change – CBS Denver

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AURORA, Colorado (CBS4)– Suicide is still the number one killer in Colorado for ages 10 and older, but there has been a notable shift when it comes to state efforts to invest in resources for children. Children’s Hospital Colorado is paving the way for change in the world of healthcare – it recently appointed its first-ever director of mental health, Dr. K. Ron-Li Liaw, discontinued.

dr K. Ron-Li Liaw (Credit: Children’s Hospital)

“Many children’s hospitals have a senior psychiatrist who reports to the chief physician of the hospital and who heads the child psychiatric department. I think the head of mental health could be one of the first of his kind in the country to really sit at the highest levels of leadership in Children’s Hospital and in the Department of Psychiatry and Medical School and provide some sort of guidance on policy, strategy, organizational design, Mental health workforce development and quality of care – creating an integrated system of care within child health care for mental health needs,” said Dr. K. Ron-Li Liaw.

dr Liaw is a child psychiatrist and, as the new director of mental health, is working not only with the Children’s Hospital leadership team, but also with local, state, and federal leaders to find ways to make early intervention and prevention a priority for Colorado’s children.

“Think about how we’re reinventing and redesigning mental health care as part of children’s health, so in everything we do as a children’s hospital, think about how we serve the needs of children who are suffering from depression, Children who suffer from anxiety, who are dealing with suicidal thoughts, are really struggling with isolation and difficulties in school and friendships,” she said.

Liaw said previous data for the state showed it ranked in the bottom 10 for investment in youth mental health care, but new data shows that is no longer the case.

(Source: iStock/Getty Images)

“These things are changing, I think, with the new behavioral health agency and a lot of legislation that’s been put in place at the state and local levels and through investments. I hope there is a much brighter future for our position in these rankings,” she said.

Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health emergency in May that resonated across the country, and in December the Surgeon General released a report in support of the crisis declaration. The Surgeon General issued an advisory in which he issued a series of recommendations to improve youth mental health across 11 sectors, including young people and their families, educators and schools, and media and technology companies.

Topline recommendations include:

  • Recognize that mental health is an integral part of overall health.
  • Empower youth and their families to identify, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
  • Ensure every child has access to quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
  • Support the mental health of children and young people in educational, community and childcare settings. And expand and support the early childhood and educational staff.
  • Addressing the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families and carers.
  • Improve timely data collection and research to more quickly identify and respond to adolescent mental health needs. This includes more research into the relationship between technology and adolescent mental health, and tech companies should be more transparent with data and algorithmic processes to enable this research.
    Liaw says the pandemic has helped bring the mental health conversation to the table, but stressed there is still work to be done.

“I think it’s part of our conversation at every kitchen table now and I’m grateful for that and I think we need to take this moment to help create a system that works for kids.”

(Image credit: CBS)

Liaw will be hosting a virtual town hall Wednesday at 6 p.m. and will be joined by two child psychologists from the Children’s Hospital Colorado team, a clinical social work manager, and Children’s Hospital Colorado’s VP of Population Health and Advocacy.

Discussion topics include:

  • Coping mechanisms and tools for stressful situations
  • Tactics for building resilience
  • de-escalation techniques
  • How to know if your child is suffering or in crisis and how to get help
  • The difference between healthy and unhealthy social media habits
  • How you can get involved in advancing youth mental health in our state

After the meeting, the public will have the opportunity to get involved and ask their own questions.

“It was going to be a really lively informative talk; we’re taking questions from you and it’s open to everyone, so we welcome anyone to join us,” Liaw said.

Families can sign up for Virtual Town Hall here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/254758348077

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