Road to Wellness and Empower Denver

Road to Wellness and Empower Denver are comprehensive strategic plans addressing Denver’s behavioral health needs.

In 2019, nearly 94,000 Denver residents reported experiencing poor mental health in the previous month — almost enough to fill Coors Field twice over. At the same time, about 30 percent of Denver’s teens reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in the previous year.

These alarming statistics spurred Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s call to action for a group of experts to be convened to review Denver's behavioral health needs. The result: Road to Wellness - A Strategic Framework to Improve Behavioral Health(PDF, 12MB) , a framework made possible by the Colorado Health Foundation and released in January 2020 that outlines steps to improve behavioral health for all residents and to create systems and communities where people can most easily access the care they need when they need it.

Mayor Hancock’s charge to the Behavioral Health Steering Committee was to hear the voices of those experiencing poor mental health, understand the scope of the issue, and build a framework that could bring us together to improve the mental and emotional well-being of all Denverites. Since October 2018, more than 100 people and 50 organizations participated in this task.

One of the most important pieces of this work was to give community the opportunity to be heard – to share their stories, their struggles, their frustrations, and their hopes. Voices from people across Denver were heard. Caregivers and mental health professionals told of their experiences helping people affected by mental health challenges. Those suffering from substance misuse, mental illness, and emotional distress shared their stories and their hopes for the future, for themselves and others who face similar problems.

From the Road to Wellness foundation, Empower Denver(PDF, 6MB) (En español(PDF, 10MB)) emerged as a natural extension, targeting improved behavioral health services for those experiencing a crisis, such as substance misuse, job loss or mental health issues. Empower Denver builds on Denver’s existing network of resources, systems, and providers to deliver the critical services needed for comprehensive behavioral health care.

Among Empower Denver’s strategies include the already deployed mobile behavioral health unit known as the Wellness Winnie, as well as Denver’s new referral created specifically for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis, the Behavioral Health Solutions Center in the Sun Valley neighborhood. This multifunctional facility features a three-tiered approach to help address the well-being of all residents, removing barriers and improving care coordination while promoting equity in the mental health and substance misuse care systems, both critical components of behavioral health.

Additional priorities within Empower Denver to be addressed now through 2023 include:

  • Diverting those experiencing a behavioral health crisis from jail by providing easy access to appropriate services
  • Launching a behavioral health stigma-reduction campaign 
  • Training communities to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, establishing linkages with schools and community-based mental health agencies and educating individuals about available resources