Roberts: Doing something about mental health
Colorado is no stranger to finding itself at the top of the list in some impressive categories. For example, we are near the top of the list for the nation’s best recreation, place to retire, and proudly, we have the top economy of any state in the country.
Yet, one list we are unfortunate to top is the states with the highest rate of suicide. Last month, social media marked “World Mental Health Day” to help bring awareness to this devastating crisis and just a few days later, a “cluster” of suicides occurred in the Roaring Fork Valley — a stark reminder that this mental health crisis is not easily mitigated.
Here in rural Colorado, this crisis is even more exacerbated; the suicide rate in rural Colorado is nearly twice as high as the statewide average, which is already much higher than the nationwide average. Responding to that crisis, there are dozens of dedicated organizations, professionals, volunteers, students, and more in our community working tirelessly to increase access to mental health care and to help break the stigma around this issue. Their work is invaluable and I am happy to say that at the state legislature this past year, we did significant work to be a better partner to their efforts.
First up was a bill I introduced with a colleague of mine, Rep. Michaelson Jenet, but it was children and young adults, including an Eagle County high school student, who helped inspire it. The Youth Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Education Act reduces the age for which a student can qualify for immediate mental health counseling from 15 years old to 12.
Also, at the suggestion of Battle Mountain High School student Saphira Klearman, who saw that other states were doing this, we added a section to this bill that directs the State Board of Education to develop a resource bank of curriculum materials for K-12 teachers across the state to incorporate mental health awareness into their daily lesson-planning. Saphira and other students from Eagle County came to the Capitol to testify in favor of this bill — and it passed. Thank you!
The state legislature did not end our work on mental health there. We passed a significant bipartisan bill that is now law that requires insurance plans, both private and Medicaid, to cover behavioral health services just like they cover physical health. That means that mental health crisis services get covered just like a broken leg would and that a behavioral health screen is treated just the same as an annual physical.
Further, we established a program in which individuals can create an advanced directive to be used in times of crisis. We also passed legislation to make significant changes to better support children in need of behavioral health services like ensuring “wraparound” behavioral health services for children who have displayed behavioral health challenges earlier in life.
Finally, the state legislature came together and worked across the aisle to pass several bills that acknowledge the fine line between mental illness, addiction, and the criminal justice system. To that end, we passed legislation regarding the treatment of persons with behavioral health disorders who are at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system and a new law was approved that recognizes that addiction is much more a disease than it is a crime and places an emphasis on community-based treatment instead of prison for first-time offenders.
This is just a summary of the legislation we considered in the 2019 session related to mental health, but hopefully, it is just a start as well. State policy like this is just one way to address the crisis we are facing in Colorado.
Like I said earlier, there are so many great people and noble efforts being undertaken here in our community and across the state and we could not thank them enough. The state legislature is just one part of that effort but I am proud to report that after this past legislative session, we are becoming a worthy partner with local action.
Have an idea in this subject area (or any other)? As always, you can contact me at Dylan.Roberts.House@state.co.us or at (970) 846-3054.
Finally, you are not alone. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or you just need someone to talk to, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, En Español: 1-888-628-9454, or the Crisis Text Line by texting: 741741.
Dylan Roberts represents Colorado House District 26, encompassing Eagle and Routt counties.