DDPHE Celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month

Expands Wellness Winnie Services ~

DENVER—The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to raise awareness around mental health by providing support, fighting stigma, and education. The latest addition to mental and behavioral health services includes an expansion of the Wellness Winnie program, Denver’s mobile behavioral health unit.

“Mental health is fundamental to personal well-being. When people are connected to support for their mental well-being, they can thrive in every part of life” said Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment. “Mental Health Awareness Month is an important time to highlight the resources that provide support, educate and fight stigma so folks can connect with the assistance they need to thrive.” 

 Providing Support 

The Wellness Winnie program is expanding from one vehicle (the original Winnebago) to three additional “Mini Winnies.” The Mini Winnie fleet increases DDPHE’s ability to be in more locations with more services across the city, including at community events. The service vans are staffed with mental health counselors and peer navigators. Through shared experiences, peer navigators are skilled to support recovery and mental well-being. 

The Wellness Winnie menu of services includes: 

  • Peer Support and Navigation 
  • Informal classes and presentations 
  • Sharps (used syringe or needle) disposal 
  • Behavioral health screening and assessment 
  • Active referral to services, such as: medical, legal, social services 
  • Distribution of items, such as: socks, gloves, toiletries, etc. 
  • Narcan/Naloxone distribution 
  • Fentanyl test strips 

This expansion comes at a time when behavioral health conditions are significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. A recent Behavioral Health Needs Assessment released by DDPHE found that for many Denver residents, accessing mental health services can be difficult. Findings indicated 41% of people who sought behavioral health services in the past 12 months had not obtained any type of service yet.  

One Mini Winnie unit will be designated to specifically serve youth and will hit the streets in the coming months. DDPHE is also addressing mental health directly in local schools with the We Got This! program. In 2022, the DDPHE hosted its first mental health summit for youth, providing a platform for teens and young adults to speak honestly and frankly about mental health and wellness.  Additionally, the team works in DPS schools to provide smaller mental health awareness events. To date, We Got This! has hosted five school seminars in local high school and middle schools with over 830 participants ranging from 14 to 19 years old. The next event will be May 17 at Hamilton Middle School. 

 Fighting Stigma 

For those with mental health conditions, other people’s stigmatizing beliefs and language can have a huge impact on everyday life. Stigma often prevents people with mental health conditions from getting equitable treatment or access to care. 

DDPHE’s What You Say Matters campaign is aimed at educating Denver residents on the impact stigmatizing language has on those with mental health conditions. Through this campaign, DDPHE looks to shine a spotlight on everyday phrases that contribute to stigma and provide alternatives that uplift and support those with mental health conditions. Find more about What You Say Matters and learn what to say here. 

 Education 

The DenverStrong program is designed to educate and empower the Denver community around behavioral health issues. By providing trainings, consultation, and community collaboration, connects community organizations and city agencies with trainings grounded in evidence-based practices and free of charge. Learn more about the trainings DenverStrong offers here.

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