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A youth corps will deploy in Colorado this fall to help teens struggling with mental health

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel file)

Colorado is joining 10 other states to launch the nation’s first corps of young people to help teenagers access critical mental health resources. Hundreds of Corps members will be deployed in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas starting this fall.

The $10 million Youth Mental Health Corps, a public-private collaboration, will address the growing mental health needs of youth while helping create career pathways to address the national shortage of mental health professionals. The initiative will span three years, starting in September.

“Colorado's commitment to the mental well-being of our youth is unwavering,” said Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera in a news release. “Together, we will make a tangible difference in the lives of Colorado youth, empowering them to navigate the challenges they face with resilience and hope while addressing shortages in the behavioral health workforce.”

Nearly one in five Colorado youth ages 5-17 reported poor mental health in 2023, according to a state health survey. Nationally, one in three high school students reports persistent feelings of hopelessness, and suicide rates for Americans ages 10-24 increased by 62% in the last 15 years.

But there is a chronic shortage of mental health professionals. More than 2.5 million Coloradans – nearly 40% of the population – live in an area with a shortage of behavioral health workers, according to the state.

Corps members will be trained as navigators serving middle and high school students in schools and community-based organizations. At the same time, they’ll gain on-the-job experience, receive a stipend, earn a credential, and be eligible for awards to help pay for education or pay back student loans.

“This innovative collaboration is a fantastic opportunity to not only create a pipeline into the behavioral health care workforce but to continue to build and expand our safety net of care for teens and youth,” said Dannetete R. Smith, Commissioner of Colorado’s Behavioral Health Administration.

In addition to helping teens access mental health resources, corps members will work directly with students to develop trust and to help students navigate the challenges posed by social media, such as harassment, bullying and bias. They’ll share resources for digital and media literacy.

The effort is funded or organized by several partners including the Schultz Family Foundation, Pinterest, AmeriCorps, the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration, and the Colorado Community College System.

Colorado programs hosting Youth Mental Health Corps members include Alpine Achievers Initiative, City Year, Colorado Youth for Change, Trailhead Institute, and United Way Southwest Colorado.

AmeriCorps, the federal agency for service and volunteerism, will provide support to the host organizations and stipends and education awards to Corps members.

The program will expand to California, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Utah next year.

Anyone ages 18-24 with a high school diploma can apply here.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.