Free mental health counseling for young people underutilized in Yampa Valley

Statewide, I Matter offers six free mental health counseling sessions for young adults. Funding for the one-year program has been extended until at least June 2023.
IMatter drawing

Access to behavioral and mental health services is the number one community health priority identified in the 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment, so any additional layer of services available to assist local residents with mental health treatment is welcomed by local counselors.

A statewide program for youth offering six free mental health counseling sessions from an underutilized licensed therapist to date in Yampa Valley. The I Matter Program, which is operated through the state’s Bureau of Behavioral Health and is online at IMatterColorado.orgTargets youth 18 and younger with mental health concerns or residents 21 or younger if they receive special education services.

Only 27 youths from Root County have used I Matter since its inception in October 2021 and fewer than 10 youths in Moffat County. Services are provided in both English and Spanish.

I Matter is designed to help Colorado youth who may be experiencing anxiety, depression, frustration, or just want to talk to someone. This summer, the state legislature renewed funding for the program to run until at least June 2023.

According to I Matter materials, “By taking a quick mental health survey, young people can gain insight into their feelings.” “These assessments are also used to pair them with the appropriate mental health professional for free, confidential and compassionate therapy sessions.”

I Matter is another tool in the community’s toolbox, said Shelby De Wolfe, Behavioral Health and Correctional Practices Coordinator for Steamboat Springs School District.

“There is a huge 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,” said de Wolf. “We always want all students and families to be educated and have access to as many mental health resources as possible.”

Jenna Tothacker, director of the Mind Springs Health Program at Steamboat, said she’d like to see awareness increase in the Valley about I Matter so more kids can receive help.

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“There is an affordability gap for services, and in some areas of Colorado, there is also an access gap,” Tothacker said. “There are not enough therapists working with children.”

Charlotte Whitney, deputy director of communications for the Colorado Bureau of Behavioral Health, explained that the 194 counselors currently registered with I Matter live throughout Colorado, and the majority of appointments take place via telehealth. After completing an online survey, students can choose from recommended counselors and schedule an appointment within a two-week window.

Despite low usage numbers in Yampa Valley, Whitney said the one-year-old program has been successful so far, providing at least one treatment session for 4,293 young adults and more than three sessions for 2,484 young adults. Areas of highest use include Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso, and Jefferson counties. She said 84% of young people keep their appointments, and the young people who are served most often are depressed or anxious.

“I definitely think the world of technology is catching up and doing decent work that provides options to make care more accessible. Telehealth has been a huge factor, given the lack of providers, and it has opened up a world of options for people who find it difficult to access treatment where they live” .

Jenna Toothaker, Program Manager, Mind Springs Health, Steamboat

Whitney notes that school counselors find “I matter” especially useful when school is not in session during the holidays and summer holidays. Young people aged 12 and over can fill out the online survey themselves. After six free sessions, the care navigator contacts the participants to find out what additional assistance may be required.

DeWolfe said the free I Matter service can be a short-term resource for students who need an audio board to discuss thinking distortions, dramatization, or stress in their lives. She said the district counseling team believed I could provide some support and relief, but “we haven’t tested it in addressing the underlying issues or traumas or making the family systems that we often need.”

I Matter aims to reduce barriers such as costs, potential stigma or the hassle of scheduling appointments at a consulting office. Students who prefer a more technically savvy, low-pressure approach to counseling may also be attracted to I Matter.

DeWolfe said the telehealth-style counseling service has received mixed reviews from local students and families.

“Some say that the process of accessing the services and virtual sessions seemed impersonal and did not live up to their expectations in terms of addressing their concerns,” said de Wolf. “Others have shared that this is what they need while waiting for local support options in person to be released.”

‘I Matter’ is not considered a crisis support service; Crisis services in Colorado are available by phone or text at 844-493-TALK (8255).

Whitney said any organization ranging from a library to a community center is welcome to request promotional materials to help spread the word about I Matter. Free posters, shelf cards, posters or banners can be shipped free upon ordering via an online form at

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