You rock. We know. Let’s talk.

Alright, it’s time for some real talk. Well actually, since it’s the middle of the week, maybe it’s time for a really cute picture of a koala first.

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Phew, okay, now it’s time for real talk. It’s hard to believe, but the Be a Lifeline blog is now in its fourth month of posting. We are so grateful to be able to share this important conversation space with you, our incredible readers and contributors. Through those four months, we’ve had remarkable guest bloggers, thoughtful staff posts, and engaging events, and we’re so lucky that you’re along for the ride.

Here’s where we’re at now – we need YOU. That’s right, we’re talking to you. No, not your coworker in the next cubicle or your neighbor down the street (although we’d love to talk to them too). You. Why, you might ask? Because we know you have something incredible to share about mental health. Maybe you’ve gleaned important knowledge from your professional life that others would benefit from learning too. Maybe you have lived experience with a mental illness or a mental health challenge and could help us understand that from your perspective. Maybe there’s something awesome going on in your community for mental health and wellness.

Whatever it might be, your voice is crucial to help move us forward in the continual pursuit of increasing education and understanding about mental health and decreasing the stigma and negative perceptions that hold all of us back.

So, here’s our charge: will you be a guest blogger? We can start small with just one post, and then you can decide if you want to keep writing. As long as it relates back to the overall purpose and goals of this conversation space, the sky is the limit on what you can talk about. You can even post anonymously if you’d rather not have your name floating out in cyberspace. If you’re not quite ready to share your story yet, we totally respect that. Just know that if and when you are, we’ll be right here, ready to listen (and read). If you are ready, head on over to the Share a Story tab to start creating your masterpiece now. We’re so excited to hear from you!

And finally, if you’re thinking, “Geez, I would really love to know more about ______________,” or “Wow, I would love to hear about someone else’s experience with ______________,” we want to know! We’ll do our best to find someone with that kind of expertise or experience to share with you. Send us your question or topic idea at the bottom of this page, and we’ll get back to you soon.

Okay, okay – one more koala just for good measure. Happy Wednesday!

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Behind the Scenes at MHFACO: News and Noteworthy Events

Hello LifeLiners, FirstAiders and anyone who accidentally ended up on our blog!

As a reminder, each month I will write about some big developments at Mental Health First Aid Colorado (MHFACO). Recently, we attended two major events. On May 19th, we had the annual Stepping Up for Our Communities Event to honor National Children’s Mental Health Day and National Mental Health Awareness Month. Then the following night, the team braved the weather at the Rockies game for Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council’s Night at the Rockies.

At the annual training event, we had over 90 individuals trained in-person in youth and adult MHFA and an additional 90 plus trained across the state at six different spoke events. A big thanks to Southeast Mental Health Group, Centennial Mental Health Center, AspenPointe, The Center for Mental Health and Jefferson Center for Mental Health for hosting spoke events across the state that day. The event also featured a fantastic keynote address from Curt Drennen, Outreach Program Manager, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where he discussed stress and how the body and mind react to stressful situations.

During lunch, we all had the privilege to hear touching first hand stories from the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Youth Essay Contest first place (Sydney Lacy) and second place (Chris Maclean) winners, as well as Children’s Hospital Youth Action Board Member, Kelsey Briding. All three spoke eloquently about how mental illness had impacted their lives and through the telling of their stories, literally reduced stigma before our eyes. As a bonus, they will also be featured guest bloggers, along with the third place essay contest winner, Christopher Glenn Watterud.

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All in all, an amazing way to spend a Tuesday!

The next night, the team manned a booth at the Rockies game. Since we were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, we reached out to our partners at the Philadelphia Mental Health First Aid office to see if we could cross promote the event. We are proud to lead the efforts in Colorado, but it is important to remember that MHFA is a national movement and program. The team in Philly does some amazing work, and they came through and shared all kinds of informational giveaways and goodies. We even made a little wager on the outcome of the game.

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While it didn’t work out for us this time, we did get to meet a lot of fans and spread the word about our programs. As always, feel free to drop us a line at registration@mhfaco.org, check out the website at www.mhfaco.org, or leave a comment below.


Tony Barkey is the Statewide Program Coordinator for Mental Health First Aid Colorado. To hear more from Tony, enter your email in the “Follow” box at the right or check out his earlier post here.

A Song in Your Head: Connecting Music and Mental Health

Okay, so here’s where we’re at. It’s Friday. Tomorrow starts a long weekend (for most). You’re feeling the afternoon slump. We’re with you. So, as your afternoon pick-me-up, take a few minutes to connect with Emily Haller, one of our Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaisons, on the connections between music and mental health! No cute dog photos here, but there may or may not be a song at the end to send you into the weekend.


Close your eyes. [Okay, so you’ll probably have to read the paragraph first before you close them, unless you’re taking a mini nap, which is totally cool too]. As you close your eyes, I want you to think of YOUR song. You know, the one that rattles around your head when you’re not thinking about anything else. The one that your coworkers probably know by heart too because you hum it all the time. The one you absentmindedly flip on when you can’t seem to shake a bad day. It’s okay if you’re thinking of several, as you might find that each situation calls for a specific set of tunes. A solo dance party as you’re getting ready in the morning might sound different than the end of a stressful day at work.

Try to play one of your selections in your head. If it helps, you can even turn it on in the background as you read. Now think: what is it that makes this my song? Maybe it was it the people you were with when you first heard it. Maybe you listened to it on repeat on your favorite trip. Maybe there is no specific reason except that it makes you smile every time. Regardless, it’s yours.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m asking you to think about music for a blog about mental health. That’s a fair question, as it might seem like a stretch. I promise, it’s a stronger connection than it might seem like at first. I studied music and psychology in college and I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of the two, especially the ability of music to impact and often improve a person’s psychological well-being.

Few things surround us or occupy our environment in the way music does. In fact, the average American spends over four hours a day listening to some form of audio. This probably isn’t surprising considering how quickly you came up with a song just a few moments ago. Music doesn’t have to just come out of a speaker either – think about the incredible music made by birds in the morning, rain hitting a roof, or waves crashing on the shore. It’s all around if you just listen.

Anecdotally, we could talk about the impact of music on our well-being all day. You know how much better you feel when that song comes on the radio. The most exciting part though? The research agrees. Music has been shown to benefit our physical and mental well-being in countless ways – everything from relieving stress and symptoms or depression to improving sleep quality. And, there’s even an entire field of study and practice dedicated to this important connection. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals.” Using music to address the whole person, now how amazing is that? I agree, SO amazing.

Luckily, the benefits and importance of music are far too numerous to fit in one blog post, and I can’t wait to have more conversations with you about music and mental health. In the meantime, I challenge you to continue to find your music and find out why it’s yours. Whether it’s a music therapy session, a really beautiful bird call, or hearing your favorite song on the radio at the store (go ahead, dance in the aisle), it’s yours, and that’s what matters most.

And, in case you need a send-off to Saturday, here’s one that’s rattling in my head today. Plus, meaningful Colorado-filmed music videos are the best kinds of music videos. Happy Weekend!

Tomorrow is the day and YOU can still register!

The day for what, you may ask? A fabulous question. Tomorrow is our annual Stepping Up For Our Communities Event – a celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Day!

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What we’re most excited to share with you though is that you can still register today! We have space left in both the Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses, and we’d love to see you there. Also, events like these are always more fun with a friend, so please share the love (and the registration links). Please click the appropriate link below to register:

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Adult Mental Health First Aid

When:  Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7:30 am Registration, 8:00 am – 5:30 pm Event

Where:  Arapahoe Community College, 5900 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton, CO 80120

We can’t wait to see you there!

Special thanks to our Youth Logo Contest Winner, Dennis H. for the awesome event logo at the top.

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This event was developed under the grant 1H79SM061884-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

Mental Health and Addiction: Starting the Conversation

As you dive into your Monday afternoon, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to engage with Britta Johnson, our Implementation Specialist, on the important topic of mental health and addiction.


As I sit in my office looking out at the beautiful green and bright colors of our emerging Colorado spring, I contemplate how to start this conversation. Typing and then deleting my starting sentence over and over I was left with a blank page and a blinking cursor.

So what is it about substance use that makes it difficult to start the conversation.  Could it be the culture of anonymity that has taught us not to speak up about it?  Is it the countless television shows and mass media coverage of celebrity rehab scandals that marginalizes this serious health condition?  Or perhaps its years of being silent that has stigmatized individuals to remain silent on the issue.

Understandably, some people in recovery are reluctant to go public.  But when someone does put a face and voice on recovery with his or her personal story, the general public and policymakers can finally access the powerful message of hope that has resonated for years in underground communities of recovery.

A recent documentary, The Anonymous People, was released that addresses this very topic.  The film features the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Deeply entrenched social stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades. The vacuum created by this silence has been filled by sensational mass media depictions of people in active addiction that continue to perpetuate a lurid public fascination with the dysfunctional side of what is a preventable and treatable health condition. Just like women with breast cancer, or people with HIV/AIDS, courageous addiction recovery advocates are starting to come out of the shadows to tell their true stories. The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement is fueling a changing conversation that aims to transform public opinion, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting recovery solutions.

The good news is that through open conversations regarding mental health and substance use, we are starting to see a shift in focus on how we approach these.  Integrated care models are becoming more prevalent to allow for the joined treatment of physical and mental illnesses at the same time.  Politicians are supporting increased government spending on strategic initiatives that directly focus on mental health and substance use.

By opening up and allowing ourselves and others to start the conversation, we are able to make positive progressive change and impact lives around us.

An inspiring time for mental health in schools

Here at the Be a Lifeline blog, we couldn’t be more excited that today is May 1st. Yes, you’re right, that means we’re one month closer to summer, which is absolutely a reason to celebrate. However, we’re most excited because today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Month! And, we could think of no better way to kick off the month than with a post from Mark Lanning, chock-full of incredible resources for behavioral health in schools! PS – another cute dog photo coming your way…


What an exciting and historic time to be involved in behavioral health reform in schools! In my short time as an educator, I have seen a large paradigm shift towards whole-child education, prevention efforts, and increased mental health literacy in the general population. My name is Mark Lanning and I am the School Based Specialist with Mental Health Frist Aid Colorado. I will be writing blog posts on the intersection of behavioral health and schools. For more on my bio, you can click here. I wanted to share with you an overview of a few statewide initiatives to inspire us all that hope and recovery are possible. (And not the scary and dangerous messages portrayed by many media outlets).

But, first, Tony last week inspired me to share an adorable picture of my dog. He is a greyhound and gets cold in the winter. As you can tell, he LOVES his hat.

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Colorado has received many prominent grants to address behavioral health needs in schools. Thanks to a partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health, districts are able to receive school based therapists to arrange counseling sessions with students at their local school. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has initiated the School Health Professionals Grant to drive marijuana tax revenue towards substance-use prevention and mental health services in districts and charter schools. Mental Health First Aid Colorado has partnered with CDE to guide comprehensive behavioral health reform in schools through the SAMHSA grant Project AWARE. Over the past few years, many school districts in Colorado have added mental health coordinators to support conversations between schools, districts, and community resources.

Coloradoans have been grateful to see the formation of many agencies as well to address behavioral health needs of students. In 2008, the Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC) was founded to support safe and healthy school populations. The CSSRC serves as the leading expert in suicide and risk assessment, positive behavioral health supports, and classroom level best practices for assisting students with mental health challenges. Although the staff focuses on school threats, they are quick to recognize that the vast majority of students with mental health diagnosis are not a threat to school safety. Safe2Tell officially became a State Agency last year. Safe2Tell is an anonymous reporting system in schools whose most common submittal is behavioral health concerns. Recently, we also saw the launch of the Colorado Crisis Services.

Coloradoans are also blessed to have many wonderful in-state nonprofits supporting behavioral health reform. While we at MHFACO love the YMHFA curriculum, we recognize that we are one piece of the puzzle towards holistic student health. Rather than compete with other programs, we believe that only by collaboration will we achieve our common goals.  While there are numerous programs, I wanted to highlight a few that have resonated with me recently thanks to their innovation and grassroots efforts. Calming Kids teaches an innovative and evidence-based bully-proofing program for pre-school through high-school aged students. CK blends yoga with non-violent communication techniques to develop an attitude of non-violence towards self, towards peers, and towards the community. The Carson J. Spencer engages local schools and youth groups in designing a social enterprise to address the root causes of suicide. Called The Fire Within, the students learn tangible business and peer support skills. Lastly, the Colorado Education Initiative created the Behavioral Health Framework to support all 3 Response to Intervention Tiers for students with mental health challenges.

Sometimes when we are interacting with students with mental health diagnosis, it can be difficult to see the big picture or all of the support you have behind the scenes. While our system is far from perfect, I am confident we are taking major steps to support whole student wellness.