Boulder Town Hall tackles the critical issues facing youth mental health

Boulder mental health town hall

Community. Connectivity. Resiliency.

These were some of the themes of a community conversation about youth mental health in April in Boulder, Colorado, sponsored and co-hosted by UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans in collaboration with Impact on Education, Comcast, Centura, The Colorado Health Foundation, and the Boulder Valley School District.

Similar to a town hall in Las Vegas last year, the two-panel event gathered clinicians, educators, community health professionals and people with lived experiences to discuss what they have learned through those experiences and their own clinical expertise and how the health care system is evolving to better care for young people and adults in a holistic way.

Dr. Kimberly Nordstrom, emergency psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, discussed trends and statistics related to youth mental health and offered recommendations on how parents can start and sustain discussions with their children about their mental health. That can be as simple as asking: “How was your day?”

“One of the key factors of resiliency is connectivity,” said Dr. Nordstrom, adding that school, church or community activities can help build connectivity. “It takes the whole community to support our youth.”

As part of the first panel on challenges facing our youth, Alana Morales, principal of Boulder High School, said it can be helpful for parents to discuss with their children how social media can be helpful in some ways and unhelpful in others. She said it doesn’t mean taking away use of platforms but simply putting boundaries in place.

As part of the second panel on resources and support, Anna Kim, a board member with NAMI Boulder (National Alliance on Mental Illness), said the health system is fragmented, but a primary care physician (PCP) can be a good place to start.

Patrick Gordon, CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, echoed that approach, saying that a PCP can be a first step to receiving care and that there is a no wrong door approach to accessing mental health care. The biggest takeaway from the event, he said, is that “you cannot do it alone.”

Watch the video above from Comcast for a recap of the event.

The challenges facing our youth panel

Maya C. — BVSD Alumni

Maya graduated from Boulder high school in 2021 and is currently taking the semester off from college to focus on their health. They have previously been involved with Impact on Education as a senior in high school on the student advisory board. When they return to school, they plan to study mechanical engineering and biology with hopes of combining these fields to research and work with renewable energy sources. They are passionate about community involvement and mental health awareness.

Dr. Alana Morales — Principal, Boulder High School

Dr. Morales currently holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a master’s and doctorate degree in Educational Leadership, with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction. She is a lifelong educator with over twenty years of classroom as well as administrative experience. She has been published recently in The Phoenix Scholar and was a presenter at the 2021 and 2022 Knowledge Without Boundaries conference.

Dr. Kimberly Nordstrom — Chief Medical Officer, Rocky Mountain Health Plans

While the Chief Medical Officer at Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Dr. Nordstrom also continues as Medical Director of Signal Behavioral Health and an emergency psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Hospital. Dr. Nordstrom received her medical and legal degrees at Southern Illinois University, School of Medicine and School of Law, respectively. Dr. Nordstrom has spoken on various behavioral emergency topics nationally and internationally. She has served as the Chair of the Coalition on Psychiatric Emergencies and President of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Chris Uhlig — BVSD Parent, Suicide Loss Survivor

Chris began his career in the software industry while living abroad. After moving to Boulder, Chris became a business owner in a small, but fast-growing energy efficient greenhouse company. In November of 2020 their son, age 16, died by suicide and since then their family has looked for ways to be involved with other parents walking the journey of losing a child by suicide. Chris is an advocate for more conversation around mental health in general, a more collaborative, coordinated approach to speaking with students and families about mental health and the impact of suicide loss on those left behind. Chris and his family are passionate about preventing suicide, knowing well the pain for those left behind.

Resources and support panel

Jenna Clinchard — Executive Director, Rise Against Suicide

Jenna Clinchard is the Executive Director for Rise Against Suicide. Before joining RISE in 2019, she spent 20 years in the corporate world, gaining the skills and knowledge needed to run a non-profit. Her work as an ardent activist for the LGBTQIA+ community, and volunteer work for St. Judes Hospital, led Jenna to leap into nonprofit work. She has always been passionate about working with youth and their mental health. She works with Boulder County’s Outreach Committee for the Behavioral Road Map, and continues to expand her learning through Women in Leadership Conferences. Jenna has two extraordinary daughters–one a BVSD graduate and another attending BVSD.

Jordan Goto — Health and Wellness Coordinator, Boulder Valley School District

Jordan has been in the Boulder Valley School District for 4 years to add to her educational experience of a total of 10 years. During the first 5 years of her educational career, Jordan worked in a non-profit school-based health center, providing comprehensive health services to students. What a gift for students to: get a physical, up to date on immunizations, and a STI check, all across the hall from the cafeteria. This is where she saw public health play out in an educational setting and really narrowed in on the health and wellness of all students. To date, Jordan has impacted over 36,000 students in her educational career and started a BVSD podcast, “The Young and the Wellness” to bring families and communities together to engage in the work with BVSD.

Darci Harvey — Director of Integrated Behavioral Health, Centura

Darci Harvey is a licensed clinical social worker and has been in the mental health field for more than 25 years. She completed her undergraduate in Sociology at UC Santa Barbara and her Masters in Social Work at the University of Denver. Her first 20 years were dedicated to working with children and families. Darci also worked 12 years with Children’s Hospital Colorado working in the Emergency Department providing crisis assessments for youth who were suicidal or had a recent suicide attempt. In 2020, Darci was named the Director Integrated Behavioral Health for Centura. Darci is also the mother to three children, with a 16-year old daughter and two sons age 13 and 8.

Anna Kim — Board Member, NAMI Boulder

Anna Kim is a Board Member for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Boulder County. She is passionate about NAMI’s mission of providing support, education and advocacy for individuals and families impacted by mental illness, and to reduce stigma, instill hope, and generate

Greg McDonald — Wellness Center Counselor, Monarch High School

Greg McDonald has been in education for 22 years.  18 of those years have been as a school counselor in both middle and high school. He is currently at Monarch High School piloting their new Wellness Center and has had over 6500 visits to the Wellness Center which comprises about 50% of the student body. Greg is originally from Massachusetts and has been in Colorado for the last 25 years living with his wife (also a school counselor) and three teenage children, one of which is a freshman at CU.

If you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, help is available 24 hours a day. Call or text 988 anytime for caring support from a trained crisis counselor through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom