New Denver office takes aim at mental health, substance abuse issues

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock creates new behavioral health post
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announces the establishment of a new Office of Behavioral Health Strategies. He named Don Mares (left), the current CEO of Mental Health America of Colorado, to head the office.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced a new initiative Wednesday to tackle mental health and substance abuse.

The Office of Behavioral Health Strategies is believed to be the first of its kind for a major U.S. city. It will analyze current mental health and substance abuse challenges in the population and work with other city agencies to address them.

Hancock named Denver native Don Mares, the president and CEO of Mental Health America of Colorado, to lead the office. Mares starts in the new post Jan. 5.

A combination of agencies will absorb the costs of the $152,000 annual salary for the new position, as well as costs for administration and technology.

“We are so far behind as a society in addressing this issue," says Hancock. "We want Denver to lead the way to show how cities can play a role in doing better coordination.”

Mares says he hopes to raise awareness and reduce stigma in Denver about mental health and substance abuse struggles.

"Clearly, a daunting task, but in my opinion a huge opportunity," Mares said Wednesday.

The office aims to coordinate the city's services for behavioral health and enhance training of key city personnel. To do that, it'll work with partners including Denver Public Schools, the Mental Health Center of Denver, the business community and other government entities.