The Annual Tri-County JFK Dinner, hosted by Otero County Democrats at the La Junta Senior Center on Saturday, featured Dist. 47 Rep. Brianna Buentello, Dist. 27 Rep. Brianna Titone and Andrew Romanoff, Colorado candidate to the U.S. Senate.
For the past several years, Romanoff has concentrated his efforts on mental health issues. After losing his first cousin to suicide, the former speaker of Colorado’s state House, joined Mental Health Colorado, a statewide advocacy organization.
“She died four years ago on New Year’s Day,” said Romanoff of his first cousin. “Her mom and dad and I were inside the house celebrating the New Year. She walked into the back yard and shot herself.”
The event has haunted Romanoff ever since, he said. When somebody dies, he remembered being told, they don’t end their pain, they transfer it.
Romanoff joined Mental Health Colorado months after his cousin’s passing because, he said, he didn’t want another family to suffer through that experience.
“It turns out, as you probably know, almost every family has been touched in some way by mental health disorder, by substance use or by suicide,” said Romanoff. “We have, by our count, about a million people in Colorado each year who experience some kind of mental illness. … We’re trying to close that gap.”
One way to combat mental health illness is to make sure the proper care is available to those who need it, said Romanoff said. Romanoff has worked with the local Southeast Health Group to integrate and consolidate mental health and primary care services.
“That turns out to be the single best thing we could do, is instead of segregating services – sending you to one place to treat your brain and a different place to treat your body – we ought to treat you like a whole human being in the same place at the same time, to reduce the stigma,” said Romanoff.
He gave one example of an individual who attended Southeast Health Group for mental health treatment. The individual, whom Romanoff did not identify to protect their privacy, had been attending Southeast Health Group since the organization went by the previous name, Southeast Mental Health.
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