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Bridging the Mental Health Gap

CMU addresses workforce needs by training students in advanced social work degrees at little or no cost to them

Issues regarding supply and demand are everywhere right now, but the stakes are especially high regarding mental health in the Grand Valley. Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of the Master of Social Work Program Michelle Sunkel, PhD explained the situation.

 “There is a huge gap in terms of the mental health needs of our community and how they are being met,” Sunkel said. “Our psychiatric hospital is almost always full so if someone needs a high level of treatment, we are often sending them to Denver. If someone is acutely psychotic, suicidal or gravely disabled they could end up five to six hours away from treatment.”

Because one can only stay in a hospital for three to five days, the patient then needs to be transported back to Grand Junction where waitlists mean it can be three to six months before a patient can receive the therapy and psychiatric medication they need. 

“We don’t have enough providers, we don’t have enough clinicians and we don’t have enough places for people to go for high-level stabilization,” Sunkel explained.

To address the gap between current mental health service availability in the Grand Valley and the services that are needed, CMU is utilizing a state-funded behavioral health grant that provides tuition assistance for eligible students working towards a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

Funding has been secured for a total of four years and funds were first distributed last year. To be eligible a student must either qualify for Pell Grants, live at a Qualified Census Tract address or provide documentation of economic hardship. For those that qualify their tuition is nearly, or entirely, covered by the grant.

Abigail Bollinger recently graduated from the Bachelor of Social Work program at CMU. She is a recipient of this grant and is now enrolled in the MSW program. Bollinger shared that she has always been passionate about serving others and she was drawn to social work because it “acknowledges how truly complex people, and their situations, are.” She explained that she chose to enroll in the MSW program after the Grand Junction Police Department Co-Responder Unit came and did a presentation in one of her classes.

“I have been very interested in the criminal justice system and it solidified that everything I am passionate about doing in social work will require a master’s degree,” said Bollinger. “During my practicum, it also became apparent that there is a huge lack of clinicians. I would like to contribute to filling that gap.”

Thanks to the behavioral health grant, Bollinger and others in the program are on their way to making our community more resilient.


Written by Giff Walters