By Lucas Brady Woods, KUNC
Colorado lawmakers continue to focus on youth mental health a year after they made historic investments in Colorado’s mental healthcare system
Several new bills dealing with student mental health are making their way through the legislature. “In my time in the legislature, I have spent many a day working on trying to figure out how to get in front of the mental health crisis that we are in for our youth,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet. “We have children who are stacked up in emergency departments waiting for care. We need to get ahead of this.”
One bill, HB 23-1007, would require Colorado’s suicide crisis hotline and the national suicide hotline to be printed on all student IDs. It follows a bill passed last year that required the Colorado hotline be printed on public high school IDs. If passed, the new bill would add the number to college student IDs too, and include the national hotline. It passed a final vote in the House this week and now moves to the Senate.
Another bill, HB 23-1003, would create a mental health assessment program for Colorado schools. The bill would develop a program enabling public schools to opt in through the Department of Public Health and Environment. The program would include a standardized mental health assessment system that could be used for sixth through 12th grade students. It would be used to identify students struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental distress.
A third bill, HB 23-1009, would help schools identify children who are misusing substances and offer resources. Under the bill, a new committee in the Department of Education would be tasked with developing a system for high schools across the state. The goal would be to identify students who need substance misuse treatment, include a brief intervention and refer the students to treatment providers.
These bills come a year after lawmakers essentially remade Colorado’s behavioral health system and invested nearly $500 million of COVID relief funding into mental healthcare. House Speaker Julie McCluskie says the funding is still being distributed and is starting to create an impact. She also says more work needs to be done.
“I'm really hoping that as the dollars start to flow, we see an improvement, we see that ability to access care in a much easier way, particularly in places like rural Colorado,” McCluskie said. “It's a moment when bolstering school-based health centers and other community services is critical.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges for the nation's youth. According to the Colorado Health Institute’s Colorado Health Access Survey, the percent of Colorado adolescents reporting poor mental health doubled between 2017 and 2021 from nine percent to 19 percent.
Between the first half of 2019 and the first half of 2022, Children’s Hospital Colorado reported an 88% increase in patients experiencing mental health crises coming to its emergency department.
House Majority Leader Monica Duran also emphasized how central mental health issues are for many lawmakers. “Everywhere we go, it’s the conversation. Just making sure that we're highlighting the needs and trying to meet those needs, whether it's in our communities, or schools, wherever it might be,” Duran said.