New Denver Health program provides infant mental health care: “We talk about being stressed, frustrated”

CBS News Colorado is partnering with MTV this month to promote “Mental Health is Health.”…

CBS News Colorado is partnering with MTV this month to promote “Mental Health is Health.” The initiative is designed to ensure everybody thrives and demonstrate it’s never too early to prioritize our emotional health. At Denver Health, specialists are now tackling infant mental health. 

The Cook family is one such family using the service, with a team of professionals providing a multi-generational approach. For instance, therapists help babies label complex emotions.  

“We talk about being mad, sad the general ones. But we also talk about being stressed, frustrated, those emotions that are underneath the basic ones. She says I’m hungry, I’m scared. She has also been able to tell us she loves us which is a huge one for us,” said mom Mariah of her three-year-old daughter Yuhopa.  

“My daughter was born right before the pandemic, so she had only seen myself, my husband, and my brother. Socially and behaviorally, she didn’t know how to interact. She would have her face covered and hide under anyone and everything. Coming here has affected her in such a great way,” she said. 

Her 1-year-old, Waniopta, is also in the program. 

“We’re really just trying to wrap our arms around families from the very beginning,” said Dr. Sarah Hills, Team Lead, Infant Mental Health, Denver Health. 

In doing so, Hill says they’re helping parents reparent themselves, and teaching them empathy. 

“There’s a reciprocity, but you’re the one with the fully developed brain and can use techniques,” said Hill. “Infants are very empathic. At two days old, they may cry when another infant cries. Infants can actually experience depression as well. Caregiver depression impacts development. And stress manifests in many ways. The most common way is irritability, feedig challenges, failure to thrive. We have parents who say their baby is ‘such a good baby’ and we wonder about that. Like we want to make srue babies are crying, they’re supposed to. That’s how they get their needs met.”

Cook has certainly seen the importance of starting early: “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it in the end because I can see a difference, like a huge difference in myself, my husband, all of us.” 

She also says she’s helping educate her community in the process. “I am Lakota and Navajo. Using our culture, the values we learned as children. Just learning that and trying to incorporate that into our children now – with mental health has been a huge milestone. Generational trauma is a huge one in the Native community. Being able to move past that stigma. You’re not weak, you’re not crazy… and you’re not unstable.” 

To learn more about Denver Health’s mental health services for your child, click here: