Denver Actors Fund makes affordable health care available to theatre artists

New collaboration will pair Maria Droste Counseling Center’s 60 independent practitioners with qualifying artists

By John Moore

The Denver Actors Fund today announced a major new collaboration to help Colorado theatre artists struggling with anxiety, depression and prolonged stress as the unprecedented COVID19 shutdown drags on.

Beginning today, The DAF is working with the Maria Droste Counseling Center of Colorado to provide affordable, professional health care to any qualifying local artist who needs it. “Our driving goal is to eliminate affordability as a barrier to getting mental-health care,” said DAF Board President Chris Gibley.

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Maria Droste is a cohort of about 60 independent and affiliated therapists from a wide range of  disciplines who provide access to mental health care for the underserved, while also serving as a training institute for newly licensed graduate interns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered at least two simultaneous public-health emergencies: The lethal virus, and a longer-term mental-health crisis. The virus has unleashed a perfect storm of mental-health challenges that are impacting Americans from every walk of life, said Boulder psychotherapist Nancy Portnoy. At a time when people are feeling anxious about their own health, their job security and the well-being of loved ones, necessary social distancing has separated many from their critical emotional support systems.

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Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, professional identities and income, leaving many experiencing everything from extreme isolation to anger to sleep deprivation to suicidal tendencies. Many metropolitan areas are reporting spikes in domestic abuse. Isolation, experts say, also leads to increased alcohol and drug abuse.

That’s why it’s not just nice to have someone to talk to right now, said Portnoy. It’s essential.

“It is natural for people to be feeling angry or hopeless right now, “Portnoy said. “The problem is that people usually wait until everything is on fire to get help. It’s always better to go and unload with someone who will listen in a safe environment.”

In a recent statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: “Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

Under the initial year-long pilot program, called CATS (Co-Pay Assistance for Therapy Service), artists need only fill out a brief application form on The Denver Actors Fund website. Any artist who has worked in a creative capacity on the making of a play or musical for a credible Colorado theatre company in the past five years, and has lived in Colorado for at least six of the past 12 months, will qualify. The DAF will then refer the qualifying artist to Maria Droste for initial screening and pairing with an appropriate mental-health professional. Maria Droste will assess the patient’s financial means and insurance coverage and then determine how much of the counseling fee each individual patient is able to pay. The DAF will cover the rest. Sessions may take place in-person or via teledoctoring, depending on a variety of factors.

Maria Droste encourages anyone with family members who otherwise would not qualify for the DAF program to reach out directly to Maria Droste for possible assistance. (call 303-867-4600 or email intake@mariadrsote.org.)

“We are committed to providing high-quality mental-health services for everyone regardless of ability to pay,” said Maria Droste CEO Sandra Mann. “Mental health is not a luxury.”

FULL DETAILS ON THE NEW DAF COLLABORATION

This new collaboration grew out of a brainstorming session between Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company Producing Ensemble Director Stephen Weitz and two of his most loyal supporters – Portnoy and her husband, Joel Silverman, who is a member of Maria Droste. Both are also actors in the local theatre community; Silverman recently played Grandpa in the Aurora Fox’s “Caroline, Or Change,” and Howard in Firehouse Theater Company’s “The Mystery of Love and Sex.”

“We had been talking before COVID about how The Denver Actors Fund can play a part in helping those in our theatre community who are struggling with mental-health issues,” said Gibley. “Now, during these very trying times, there has never been a more pressing need to help. Then, all of a sudden, Maria Droste reached out to us to help. These are professionals who love the theatre and the talented people who fill our lives with emotion, remembrance and hope. We are so grateful.”

As lifelong proponents of the performing arts, Silverman and Portnoy quickly realized artists would make for a particularly vulnerable community when the national shutdown on public gatherings began. Most artists not only lost potential income from their theatre projects, but also their supplemental income sources from part-time jobs in bars and restaurants.

“Theatre artists are experiencing a sense of trauma, of grief, of shock, of a loss of identity and a loss of community,” Portnoy said. “All of that came to a screeching stop on March 13. And now they are struggling with a real fear of the unknown, with no real sense of how to keep going.”

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To request further information, please email denveractorsfund@gmail.com.

John Moore is a longtime local arts journalist and the co-founder of The Denver Actors Fund, which in seven years has made $600,000 available to Colorado theatre artists in need since 2013.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COPING WITH COVID STRESS

  • Sleep. Figure out a way to have a balanced sleep cycle so you’re not staying up late and sleeping too late into the day.
  • Move. Include physical activity during the day to engage with the outside world.
  • Monitor your consumption of the news. Decide which two or three sources of information you are willing to trust, but modulate them so that you’re not constantly looking at the news all the time.
  • Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Find a way to schedule calls, have conversations with friends, families, call your grandmother, call your grandkids, call your siblings and make an appointment so that you are doing those kinds of things regularly.
  • Support your seniors. Older people are having the hardest time, because their capacity to even go out for a walk is limited, and they’re not getting visitors. It’s important for seniors to connect with family and friends on a regular basis by phone or through safe, socially distanced get-togethers. Friends of seniors should look for depression warning signs, including a drop-off in communication or excessive sleep.
  • Check on your teen. Parents should also not be afraid to ask their children and teens if they are having problems with stress, anxiety or depression. Asking never introduces that thought in the person’s mind, experts say. Most often, if a teen is experiencing these things and the parent asks, they feel relieved; they feel like they’re being heard.
  • Beware of channeling your anxiety onto small children. Maintain a routine, including regular bedtimes and regular socially distant or virtual playdates. Reassure small children their parents are there to protect them. Conversations are better than lectures. Young people pick up on their parents’ anxiety. So be careful about how much they’re picking up on.
  • Acknowledge your own sense of loss.

– Dallas Morning News