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How Colorado youth are utilizing the state's free mental health service

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16-year-old Aarav Varma utilized a Colorado program that provides six free therapy sessions to youth.

Update, May 31, 2022: Originally set to expire in June 2022, I Matter Colorado received an additional $6 million to extend the program through July 2023.

DENVER — Anaisa Lua does her best to create a welcoming and safe space for her clients. A quote framed and hanging on her office wall sums it up: "Vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen."

“Therapy allows a space for people to feel accepted and understood. I feel that it’s a space for them to truly be their genuine selves. Sometimes they share about walking in the world and having to hide,” said Lua.

Lua is a therapist working with I Matter Colorado, a program that provides funding for six free therapy sessions for all young people in Colorado ages 18 and under (21 and under for those receiving special education services). Often times, therapy can cost anywhere from $100 to $150 per hour and Lua says I Matter Colorado helps eliminate that financial barrier. 

“Especially if you have multiple children and you’d like all of them to get services, you might feel like you need to prioritize one versus the other,” said Lua.

Colorado Voices

I Matter Colorado

I Matter is the state’s response to a growing mental health crisis facing so many young people who are trying to navigate life during a pandemic. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health emergency room visits increased from 2019 to 2020 by 25% for young people aged 5-11 and 31% for adolescents aged 12-17. The leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 24 in Colorado is suicide.

Aarav Varma is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. He said the isolation he experienced during school lockdowns was almost unbearable, “COVID shaped me as a person and it tore me apart being online it hurt so much I was feeling down every day.” 

Varma found out about I Matter Colorado through school. “I had to use I Matter because I was feeling a little bit sad being online over the last year, it really took part of me away being on Zoom calls eight hours a day,” Varma said. 

The program is the first of its kind in the country. Governor Jared Polis signed a bipartisan bill in July 2021 that provided $9 million to the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health to facilitate I Matter Colorado. And in May 2022, the program received an additional $6 million after the passage of House Bill 1243. Originally set to expire in June 2022, the program will extend through July 2023. So far 2,957 youths have utilized one session, 1,221 have had two sessions, and 753 have had three or more sessions. 141 therapists are available.

Lua said one of the best parts of the program is that the kids get to choose their own therapists, giving them a sense of autonomy.

“They are able to log on themselves and they are able to read through the profiles of the clinicians and they decide who they feel connected to and who they want to see,” she explained.

For Varma, the I Matter sessions helped him feel less isolated. 

“We do have a ray of hope, there’s a ray of light that we can see finally. We are not alone in this. I Matter is the true thing that can help kids feel like they are not alone. No one is ever alone,” he said. 

Now that Varma is going to school in person, he can get back to exploring some of the things he loves like graphic design, chemistry and creating things. He says he might go into the psychiatric field when he grows up to help other people with their mental health struggles.


If you have an immediate mental health crisis, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat with the Lifeline.

Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at

Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Previous stories about youth mental health

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