1970s: Public Policy Advances

In 1971, the Colorado Association for Mental Health (CAMH) adopted general principles to serve as guidelines in the Association’s efforts to secure and maintain comprehensive mental health services for all of Colorado’s citizens. CAMH emphasized:

  1. Prompt establishment of a coordinated network of treatment facilities and consultation services for substance abuse – utilizing, to the maximum extent possible, existing resources, facilities, and personnel.
  2. Improved funding mechanisms for state-supported mental health programs.
  3. Capital construction appropriations for the creation of an approved mental health facility in Grand Junction and the forensic psychiatry unit at Colorado State Hospital.
  4. Establishment of 24-hour closed adolescent treatment programs for the Denver metropolitan area and the rest of the state.

As the decade progressed, there were many positive policy changes that advanced the rights of those facing mental health and substance use disorders.

Under the renamed Mental Health Association of Colorado (MHAC), our organization advocated for mental health care inclusiveness in every basic health insurance policy. The Colorado Senate passed a bill in April 1975 to make mental health coverage mandatory in group insurance policies sold in the state after January 1, 1976. Up until this point, employers opted out of mental health insurance because premiums were raised by about $2.50 for a family of three or more. MHAC wanted to ensure healthcare coverage for the citizens of Colorado, and much of the research for the bill was handled by a subcommittee of MHAC. Today, Mental Health Colorado is very involved with educational efforts surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

On July 1, 1976, full legal rights were set to be restored to those ruled mentally ill by Colorado courts prior to July 1, 1975. Through the Colorado mental health law CRS 27-10, those living as private citizens no longer needed to petition the courts to restore the right to vote, obtain a marriage or driver’s license, and sign legal contracts. Prior to July 1, 1975, individuals committed to state mental hospitals – even for one day – had many of their fundamental rights terminated.

Continuing its tradition of advocacy for patients’ rights, MHAC worked in conjunction with the Division of Mental Health to advocate for the rights of current and former mental patients. MHAC worked on ways to notify nearly 3,000 formerly institutionalized people that they had their rights back, and we also developed a handbook of patients’ rights as a reference manual for state mental hospitals.