Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
May 11, 2023
Ian Palombo | Denver Mental Health Collective
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m Ian Palombo and I’m the founder and executive director of Denver Mental Health Collective. Our initial mission was to provide accessible and affordable mental health care to as many people as possible. We’ve added an inward mission to promote employee-centric, purpose-driven workplaces for clinicians. We’re really trying to create a balanced, great place for clinicians to work.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
As an undergrad, I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do. I was an accountant for a small healthcare company, long enough to realize that I did not want to be an accountant. I saw the impact that day-to-day corporate office work has on individuals’ physical and mental health and didn’t like what I saw. It inspired me to explore corporate health, which led me to personal training and health coaching. I attended grad school in Denver for sports and performance psychology and eventually found myself working with athletes and individuals struggling with eating disorders. While there I helped start one of the country’s first eating disorder programs for athletes and eventually opened my own private practice. Being a clinician in the field helped me realize the place I created had to be as focused on clinicians’ well being as it was for patients.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I’ve yet to meet someone who has not been impacted by mental health. Just like none of us can say we’ve never had a physical health concern in our lives – whether it’s a common cold or something more serious – none of us can say we’ve never had a mental health issue. In some form or another, we have all been impacted by anxiety or depression. While we all have that commonality among us, I also understand I’ve had a privileged life, and I stand for all those who can’t stand for themselves, for whatever reason. Whether you are on the providing- or receiving-end of mental health care, this work is hard work. My core values are altruism, equality, education, industry; and this work hits on all of them. I have found something I can pour all of my energy into. There’s always more return, there’s always more to do. And there’s just so much more to be done.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
On one side, the impact we’re making is easily quantifiable: we are 20-ish clinicians serving more than 400 clients, and holding over 1,700 appointments a month. Last year alone we provided 16,000 appointments. We’re entirely insurance-based and more than half of our clients get services through state funding in Colorado. Over the past five years we’ve created a training program for students and provisionally licensed clinicians to earn hours toward their degrees and licenses, and we’ve graduated 10 interns from that program. This year we’ll welcome our biggest cohort of four interns at one time. It’s also just as simple as we’ve helped so many people feel better and move forward in life. Although we do measure outcomes of our work, its impact would be impossible to quantify.
On the employee-side, all of our clinicians are W2 employees with excellent benefits. That might seem like a small thing, but it’s not the norm in our field. Most clinicians at private group-practices are 1099 contractors with no benefits. We make sure they have insurance, PTO, retirement plan, and we pay for their continuing education. We’re really focused on creating a place where clinicians only have to worry about providing excellent care.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’m inspired by the people who do this work every single day. Our clinicians are second-to-none, and our clients that are attending the appointments are everyday superheroes. It’s pretty corny to say, but it’s really, really hard to do this work – as a clinician, as a client, and as a human. For anyone who has found themselves in a moment where they know something is wrong, and then found the courage to ask for help, that’s an inspiring feat of strength. Asking for help is terrifying when you feel good! When you’re hurting and you don’t know why, it feels impossible. To see so many people asking for help and following through on receiving it, it’s not just inspiring. It’s enough to bring me to tears when I stop to think about it.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Our vision is a world where getting mental health care is easier than going without. It’s as simple as that. On any given day, if someone is struggling with a mental health issue, they would know exactly where to turn for help, just as they would if they had a sore throat. Right now that isn’t the case. That requires us all to be working towards removing the stigma from mental health. When we talk about removing the stigma, we’re talking about the people who are paralyzed by their mental health issue(s), and feeling isolated, alone, and helpless. Those are the people we’re trying to help. One thing I believe is that if we’re going to remove stigma from mental health, then as clinicians we have to be working towards that every day. We have to be okay talking about mental health care as healthcare and not this mystified magical journey. Don’t get me wrong, helping someone heal from an illness they’ve lived with their entire life is an amazing thing. And we have this huge opportunity to do a lot more of it. It means accepting insurance, using quantifiable evidence-based treatments, and consolidating the places we provide care. And we have to get in line with the rest of the healthcare industry, which in itself is difficult because it’s a broken industry. As a mental healthcare field, we find ourselves decades behind general healthcare, so we have a huge opportunity to improve our services, remove stigma, and also not make the same mistakes as those before us.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The only challenge we don’t face is a shortage of people to help. Said another way, our biggest challenge is the sheer number of people who need our help. We have more than 100 people reach out every week. We couldn’t hire enough clinicians if we tried. We hire in cohorts, we hire and onboard multiple clinicians at a time. We offer W2 positions with fair pay, full benefits, a fair caseload, PTO, education credits, and more. Yet we simply can’t help all of the people who reach out. We’ve doubled our team multiple times and we still can’t do it. That’s both daunting and energizing. Even if we could hire the number of providers we need, There just aren’t enough providers that are people of color, members of marginalized and underserved communities. We just don’t have enough people in the field. That’s what energizes me to continue building our training program and continue reaching as many people as possible to continue doing the work that we’re doing.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
We write it at the end of every single page on our website “If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, reach out.” No one is immune to it. You are not alone. Even if you don’t have the exact words to describe what’s going on, we will help you find them. You don’t have to feel like this forever. You are not broken, and you can feel better.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“There is always hope.” I’m a big Banksy fan. I love the print with this saying because there is always hope. And I truly believe that.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
If you’re struggling, if someone you know is struggling, reach out. Ask those around you how they’re doing. Stop accepting “okay” and “good” as an answer. Ask follow-up questions – “What does good feel like today?” Others can support us by supporting other people in their lives, and teaching our kids what emotional vocabulary is and how to use it.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We help purpose-driven organizations launch or up-level their PR program by giving them the strategy, resources, and support they need to increase awareness and expand their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.