The Colorado Springs Gazette final

Springs First Lady’s mental health initiative progresses


Not everybody who is depressed has a mental illness. But everyone gets depressed from timeto-time, and for those who don’t necessarily need therapy or medication, wouldn’t it be nice to have a few ideas of how to get out of a funk?

Maybe schedule of 10-minute dose of sunshine for yourself or take a walk to clear your mind or check on a neighbor. Or perhaps counseling or other professional assistance would be a better approach.

Equipping El Paso County residents with ways to best assess and access what they need to improve their mental health is the line of thought behind an initiative that launched nine months ago as the platform of Colorado Springs’ First Lady Abbey Mobolade.

“We aren’t creating a new entity,” she said Friday, adding that she’s not a mental health professional and does not purport to be an expert.

“We are being very intentional with creating a large collaborative network of what already exists and being integral with what’s already here, which will help us identify gaps. It’s a process that leads to good health.”

The Colorado Springs Mental Health Initiative was born out of Mobolade’s frustration with the system long before her husband, Yemi Mobolade, was elected mayor in a runoff race last June.

The couple’s adopted child from Ethiopia, who joined their family that includes two biological children, has needs related to previous trauma.

“Trying to navigate that and find the resources is just hard,” Abbey Mobolade said. “This is something I’ve been talking about in my own circles and networks — it shouldn’t be this hard and my own frustration with that.”

As her husband’s mayoral campaign progressed, Mobolade, an intensive care unit nurse who teaches full-time in the nursing program at Pikes Peak State College, talked more openly about the need for cohesiveness in mental health care.

While several groups meet regularly to analyze suicide prevention efforts and overall teen and overall community health, the intent of the new mental health initiative is to weave it all together.

Because anything from housing, transportation and insurance to stigmatization and a lack of awareness can figure into obtaining mental health services.

“Once you start pulling at the thread, you find this is a giant king-size afghan,” Mobolade said.

For nine months, she’s been working with El Paso County Public Health Director Susan Wheelan to meet with key players from nonprofits in the field, hospitals, schools and other sectors to determine the status of mental health care in the region, and what’s working and what’s not.

“It is a slow-moving train because it is intentional, and we don’t want to throw out random things and see what works and what doesn’t,” Mobolade said. “We want to use metrics and data to show the effectiveness of what we’re implementing.”

Three areas of focus have been identified:

• Increasing education and awareness of mental health communitywide;

• Building local, state and federal partnerships with agencies and organizations to work toward common goals; and,

• Activating projects, including developing social support systems, so that “every person in our city has an opportunity to be involved in a very real and meaningful way,” Mobolade said.

Mobolade believes the difficulties she has encountered in uncovering what’s available in the community for her child’s needs and how she and her husband could access resources and assistance is more common than not.

“How do we get things to people and create a platform so people can use them,” she said. “It’s not one demographic or one part of the city this affects. It is literally every citizen.”

The first program, “1,000 Neighborhood Gatherings,” rolls out on March 28.

The concept: that residents develop social support systems where they live, by reaching out to their neighbors in an intentional and purposeful manner.

Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated isolation in America and created “a lack of connectivity with humans, which is contributing to our decline in mental health,” Mobolade said.

“And we have to fix that,” she said.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory that loneliness and isolation put Americans at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.

Get to know your neighbors, Mobolade urges. Spend 10 to 15 minutes talking, looking them in the eye, asking if they need anything and “rebuilding that connectivity.”

Starting Thursday, people can register on the city’s website to join the movement, which will include individual and collective neighborhood gatherings for babies through seniors.

Mobolade’s mental health initiative also is promoting a free online resiliency training produced by the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience at the University of Colorado campus in Colorado Springs.

Anyone can take the training, which uses research-based evidence, to learn how to identify and help others who might be having problems coping with life’s challenges.

Also, the El Paso County Public Health is building an online behavioral health platform designed to increase access and reduce barriers to mental health care, Wheelan said.

People will be able to log on and take an assessment, perhaps along the lines of this scenario: “I’m not sleeping well, I have more bad days than good days, maybe something’s going on, but I don’t want to see a therapist.”

Using evidence-based data, the online platform will walk the person through assessing their needs and provide suggestions for selfcare and wellness, Wheelan said.

The program will begin next quarter as a pilot project, she said.

The county public health department also is finishing a community health assessment, which should be completed next month, and will update a community health improvement plan based on the results, Wheelan said.

The plan will further guide the mental health initiative.

“We’ve got to figure out how to pull resources together to monitor it and make a difference,” she said.

The exercise of bringing many people together in the initiative’s first stage has created a buzz of energy and support for mental health from broad constituencies, Wheelan said.

“Instead of having people come to the table pointing fingers, Mrs. Mobolade has approached the process with a curious mind, knowing there’s already a lot going on in the community,” she said.

“There’s an intentionality knowing that mental and physical health can’t be separated, but more that we see it is as one.”

Wheelan considers the initiative to be an innovative undertaking for a community, one that hasn’t been tried before.

“There’s an uplifting feeling, rather than there’s not enough being done,” Wheelan said. “It’s yes, we’ve got issues, tell me what you need.”

Mobolade calls the project “a huge undertaking and not something one entity can do on its own. Big problems call for big solutions.”

Anyone facing issues or concerned about someone’s mental or emotional health, or substance use can dial 988 from any phone for a free, confidential conversation with a specialist.

“Trying to navigate that and find the resources is just hard ... This is something I’ve been talking about in my own circles and networks — it shouldn’t be this hard and my own frustration with that.” Abbey Mobolade





The Gazette, Colorado Springs