Colorado is facing an increase in patients being taken to hospital emergency rooms due to mental health crises. However, once their symptoms stabilize and they return home, most patients lack follow-up care. Mental health advocates attribute this statistic to system disruption and lack of patient guidance. To combat this issue, the Follow-Up Project was created. The program involves trained listeners from Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners who call patients after their emergency department visit and guide them towards finding a qualified therapist. The program has expanded to 73 hospitals, including rural areas, and has made over 19,000 post-hospital follow-up calls.
The risk of suicide increases weeks to months after a hospital visit for a mental health crisis. Statistics show that 22% of suicide deaths occurred within 30 days of an emergency hospital visit. The Follow-Up Project aims to decrease this risk. Surveys after six months and one year showed that participants were less likely to return to the hospital or emergency center. The program keeps patients informed and accountable, gently encouraging them to adhere to their treatment plan. The first call lasts up to 30 minutes, but the average weekly call duration thereafter is 15-20 minutes. Patients can withdraw from the program at any time, free of charge.
The Follow-Up Project is also aimed at children and their caregivers. The program connected 133 parents with children up to age 9 and more than 2,500 young people aged 10 to 24 last year. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in Colorado, with one in five high school students having had suicidal thoughts. The organization Second Wind Fund provides free counseling sessions to young people up to age 19 who have no insurance or insufficient insurance. With the latest partnership with states, the aim is to extend free treatment programs to people up to age 24.
The Follow-Up Project recognizes that long wait times for therapy appointments are common, and its experts encourage patients not to give up and to continue to seek treatment. The program is based on the “caring contact” model, which finds that people are less likely to die by suicide if they have someone who checks on them. The model is grounded in supportive, compassionate contact rather than demanding anything or offering treatment.
To seek confidential and emergency help, Colorado residents can text the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK or “TALK” (38255) or contact Colorado Crisis Line, a statewide hotline, by texting TALK to 1-844-493-8255 or 38255.