Colorado mental health law focusing on children, suicide prevention gets super-charge from health officials

451

AURORA | It’s rare that politicians are referred to as superheroes, but Thursday a group of state lawmakers dawned capes at Children’s Hospital Colorado as a new bill aimed at improving youth mental health in Colorado was signed into law.

Senate Bill 19-195, a bipartisan bill, enhances behavioral health services through standardized screening and assessments and creates the office of children and youth behavioral health policy coordination — a 15-member panel that is meant to “increase and enhance efficient and effective behavioral health services to children and youth.”

The group will be tasked with making recommendations and monitoring updates related behavioral health services across the state.

Proponents of the bill said it was legislation that was desperately needed. Jena Hausmann, CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado, told attendees of the bill signing that challenges in mental health care across the state have been growing faster than health officials can keep up with.

She also gave a nod to the law’s bipartisan roots. 

Aurora Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat, was the prime sponsor. Republican Sen. Bob Gardner, who represents portions of El Paso County, also helped carry the legislation. 

He told the Sentinel that bipartisan work on the issue of mental health is important because it affects so many people across the state. Likewise, Fields said mental health isn’t a partisan issue, making it an obvious partnership.

Sisters Lucy, 8, and Kate, 10, Hartman awarded Gov. Jared Polis, who signed the bill, and the bill sponsors with red capes for the event. 

Kate testified in favor of the bill this session. In 2017, after what she described as a “horrible day,” she asked her mom for a knife because she wanted to kill herself. 

The Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention’s 2017-2018 report revealed there were 1,175 suicide deaths across the state, 19 more than the previous year. In 2009 there were 940 total suicide deaths. Between 2015 and 2017 in Colorado, 222 suicide deaths of people between the ages of 10 and 18 were reported.

Additionally, the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found 31.4 percent of Colorado high school students said they felt sad or hopeless almost every consecutive day for two weeks or more in the last year.

17 percent said they considered suicide, and another 7 percent said they had made a suicide attempt in the last year.

Year over year, the increases aren’t statistically significant, Sarah Brummet, director of the state office, previously told the Sentinel. But the rising numbers are something to watch, she said. Colorado consistently ranks high in suicide rates.

The Hartman family has been advocating for better mental health systems since Kate indicated she wanted to take her own life. Her family says they are lucky for being able to receive the help they needed, but recognize that story isn’t uniform across the state for others.

“We’re here to present the capes to the real life superheroes who are saving the lives of hundreds of children struggling with mental health challenges,” Kate told a crowd of people there to see Polis sign the legislation.

SB19-195 has a more than $1 million price tag, but sponsors assert that saving lives will save the state money in the long run. 

The Senate passed the bill unanimously. 13 House Republicans voted against the bill.