Connections – Health District of Northern Larimer County

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m pleased today to be joined with Kristen Cochran, program manager for Connections, part of the Health District of Larimer County. Welcome. Really happy that you and your team came up for the day to spend some time with us, and we’re going to spend some time getting to know more about you and a little bit more about Connections. We want folks to recognize you all as a resource in Larimer County and how people can access your services. Before we get into the program, let’s talk a little bit about you. How did you get into this field?

Funny story. My mom told me when I was like in, I don’t know, fifth or sixth grade, “You need to be a social worker.” I thought, “I don’t want to be a social worker, because all they do is take away people’s children.” That’s what I thought to myself, because I had a very, very narrow view of what social work was. Then I knew all growing up that I was very attracted to helping professions. So my mom was right. When I went to college, I went to an intro to social work class and fell in love, and just knew at that point in time that I needed to do something in the field and discovered that I could work in the mental health field with a social work degree. So then went and got my master’s and have done mental health and substance abuse work ever since.

I wonder what your mom saw in you in fourth and fifth grade that made her say social work. Where you just do you think super compassionate and caring with all the people that you engaged with, do you think?

I think I was. I would always describe myself growing up as a chameleon-type personality where I could just blend in and fit in with any crowd, and really welcoming to people and wanted to understand them more, and learn more about them, and hear more about them, and all of that. So it just was a pretty natural progression.

Well, that sounds like your mom was right.

She was. As much as I hate to admit it, she was right.

I’m glad that she was able to see in you that you weren’t able to see yourself until you got to school. Let’s talk about Connections. It’s a part of the Health District of Larimer County. The focus is on information and referral for adults specifically, who are looking for behavioral health services, correct? Can you describe some of the services that are offered to clients when they call in?

So we’re a really unique program. We’re actually a partnership between the Health District of Northern Larimer County and SummitStone, and what we were created to do is be a community hub of resources for anybody and everybody, regardless of their issue or their payer source. Because we’re a partnership with the Health District and SummitStone, we’re a free service to the community, so there’s no charge for what we offer. Our tagline is answers, options, and support. Anybody can call us or walk into our office looking for answers, options, or support when it comes to mental health or substance use issues.

We’re here to guide families. It can be really, really confusing for people trying to navigate the mental health system. You might go to a primary care doctor and you talk to your doctor about depression and they say, “I really want you to see a therapist.” Then you try to call maybe the list from your insurance panel or you just try to Google it yourself and you could run into a lot of roadblocks. People not calling you back, or no longer taking your insurance, or you can’t afford their fees. We really work to help people navigate that system so it’s not so cumbersome.

We do the majority of our work over the phone, of people just calling us, or people can walk in and we’ll help them face to face as well. If somebody is unsure about what direction they want to go in or they’re not ready to commit to therapy, then we can provide care coordination services in our office, or brief therapy as well, while somebody who’s deciding what might be the best route for them.

So there’s really no wrong door. I love that. That’s wonderful. How long has it been around?

We were first started, I believe, in 2001. No, right around early 2000 is when we started.

What was it that prompted them to say we really need to create this kind of system in place? Was there just a lot of people not accessing services?

There was so much of a need and so confusing and cumbersome, that we saw that in the community and really realized that we needed one stop where people could go and get the information they needed that wasn’t so confusing.

It’s great too, because it also helps the community identify where there might be a duplication of services. Which always tends to be a thing that bogs the communities down too.

Obviously you kind of have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on with behavioral health in Larimer County. What are some of the things that are more pressing that you think are needing to be addressed?

Yeah, we definitely have just seen such an increase in the amount of people seeking services. Even though we’re very fortunate in the services that we have available and the therapists that are available in our community, we still don’t have enough. There’s just not enough providers to go around for the need. Also, people really need specific focused treatment. If you’re dealing with trauma, then you want to go to a provider who specializes in trauma versus somebody who maybe specializes in general mental health issues. So we need some more specialization for that.

Then also, a huge increase in our substance use and really a lack of community resources for all levels of care for people that are seeking services. One of the big things that we get called on quite often is parents needing resources for their older teens, young adult children, who are dealing with addiction and don’t really have any place to turn. We see a lot of that as well.

Then of course I’ll add, our suicide numbers remain very high in Larimer County. We are seeing, unfortunately, an increase continuing to happen. So a lot of efforts being made in the community to address suicide as well.

Is that happening in more of the rural areas of Larimer County? AT least the suicidal tendencies, or is it more in the metro area of Fort Collins?

We actually are seeing it more in the rural. We’re seeing more recently, Loveland, kind of the mountain communities. Even out further east, Greeley, Ault, within that area.

Well, it’s great that you all are available as a resource, and of course coming to programs where you can actually learn about them and then continue to take that information back. But what I’m hearing you say is there’s still a dearth of resources that exist. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about … I like to always get to know the people behind the program, so I’m going to ask you a couple of interesting questions. What books have you gifted to others in the past, and what’s been a book that has most influenced your life? It probably could be the same book.

Oh, this is an old book, but Women Who Run With Wolves. Yes. That was one that had a huge, huge impact on my life. In my early twenties, I was really struggling with where I was and who I was and where I was going to go with my life, and even having the ability to claim my own power as a female and really speak my own voice and be confident in who I was as a woman, who I was as a professional. So Women Who Run With Wolves was very impactful at that time in my life. I’ve gifted that book, but most recently I think I’m just a huge fan of Brene Brown. I love all of her books. The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly. I mean, all of those, Just so much talk about shame and how we carry that with us and that’s kind of ingrained in our culture, and how we can overcome our gremlins that are in our head and these negative messages and tapes and how to do that, and really, again, going back to the first book, reclaiming our voice and our power. That we are very strong, capable, independent beings and how can we allow ourselves to fully embrace that versus feeling like there’s a place that we should be in. So those ones, yeah.

It’s a good parallel, those two. I like that. Then if I were to offer up the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?

I really think having a calm mind. When I think about harmony and everything that’s going on in the world and in the culture and just with relationships general, having the ability to just calm your mind. I think it’s unrealistic for a lot of people to have an empty mind or a state of … I’d love to say that everybody could live in a state of mindfulness at all times, but just the ability to acknowledge what’s there, but be calm in that you can accept whatever’s happening around you and be a peace with that, as opposed to trying to fight all these different forces and trying to figure out what the balance is. So just the ability to find calmness.

I really like that. The calm mind concept is really new. I mean, not new, but it’s new in the way that I’ve offered this up to a couple of other people and first time that I’ve heard it said that way and I really like that. If someone were wanting to access services at Connections, how could they get in touch with you?

Yeah, so the best way to get in touch with us is over the phone. Our phone number is 970-221-5551. Or they could always visit the website, which is

Wonderful. Kristen, it’s so nice to talk with you. Again, thanks for bringing your team up and we look forward to continue to work with Connections.