Editor: Talking about mental health is never easy. Unfortunately, it is often considered shameful and a sign of weakness. As someone who struggled with and overcame my own mental health challenges, I know how harmful this stigma can be and prevents too many people from getting the care they need. However, we need to acknowledge and address the mental health crisis here in Aurora.

 The warning signs are abundantly clear. Recently, Colorado Children’s Hospital in Aurora declared a “state of emergency” for youth mental health following a major increase in attempted suicides among kids. Even this newspaper has reported on the challenges facing local mental health service providers and residents in the midst of this pandemic. We cannot let our friends and neighbors, and especially our kids, continue to deal with these issues on their own.

Despite this real and urgent need, several barriers stand in the way of people getting the care they need. Most mental health and addiction programs are privately-operated and charge a premium for their services, limiting access to only those who can afford it. In addition, there are not enough providers with the proper training and experience in Aurora to meet the growing demand. Then there is the stigma around addiction and mental health that prevents people from seeking treatment in the first place.

It’s time for Aurora’s leaders to step up and take action. Aurora City Council should prioritize utilizing a meaningful portion of the new money we received from the American Rescue Plan on mental health services; substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery programs; and suicide prevention programs. While this is not permanent funding, it would lay the groundwork for long-term, sustainable services for everyone in Aurora. These services are critical to supporting Aurora’s recovery and would provide immediate relief to youth and adults who are at-risk and in need of care.

This is our opportunity to support the long-term health and wellbeing of all Aurorans. I can attest from personal experience that the mental health care I received changed my life for the better. I am physically healthier, more active in the community, and I have a renewed and positive outlook. More than anything, access to local and affordable mental health resources created the safe and reassuring space I needed to ask for help. That is what every resident of Aurora deserves.

Brenndan McDonaugh, via letters@sentinelcolorado.com