Our physical health and our mental health are not separate.

Millions have been forced into isolation and society’s anxiety remains high due to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. As we continue to hope for recovery from the physical effects of the pandemic, a secondary pandemic of mental health and substance use concern has started to ravage our state and we must be prepared to deal with the increased need and demand for care and services.

The 2021 policy platform addresses pandemic response and recovery.

Icons indicate primary Mental Health Colorado bills 

  • Access to housing, supports, and services

    Having a place to call home is an essential element of good mental health across the lifespan. Access to supports and services prolongs life and enhances mental health outcomes.

    Advocacy Priority: Protect existing funding for behavioral health services and supports: According to a recent article from the Colorado Health Institute, there have been 443 recorded overdose deaths from January to April 2020 in Colorado. This represents 35% increase from the same time period in 2019. According to CHI, “the starkest difference can be seen for both March and April — the first few months of the COVID-19 lockdown. April saw a jump from 15.0 to 24.1 deaths per 100,000 people.” Colorado needs to be equally prepared to deal with the secondary health impacts from the pandemic: increased mental health and substance use issues in our communities. Our state needs to invest in behavioral health services and supports, instead of cutting needed funding.

    Proposed Bill: Expand and enhance peer-delivered services in Colorado: People living in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions have proven to be effective in supporting positive health outcomes for others with similar health conditions. These professionals should be widely available, reasonably compensated, and well trained.

    Proposed Bill: Enacting the 9-8-8 Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Crisis Response Hotline in Colorado: Colorado’s suicide rate is of the highest in the nation, especially for youth. Studies show most suicide attempts are made within three hours or less of someone having suicidal thoughts, and some in as little as 5 minutes. Colorado needs a fast and easily accessible support system for individuals in need of immediate mental health services and supports. The proposed bill would enact federal legislation establishing the 9-8-8 crisis response number and creates a sustainable funding option for receiving and responding to those calls in the community.

    • Reduced potential harm from drugs and alcohol

      Drugs and alcohol have been a part of our landscape throughout history. From childhood onward, we thrive if we can reap their benefits while reducing their potential for great harm.

      Proposed Bill – Ensure responsible practices for the prescribing of benzodiazepines: When prescribing benzodiazepines, prescribers must check to see that other medicines that could threaten the patient’s life have not already been prescribed.

      • Decriminalize mental health

        As many of those working in law enforcement understand more clearly than most, the criminal justice system is our first and only—and completely inappropriate, ineffective, and costly—response to people’s need for mental health and substance use care. Building health care capacity and supportive housing so that we can disentangle mental health and criminal justice will improve health outcomes, save taxpayer dollars, and enhance community wellbeing

        Proposed Bill: End the use of solitary confinement in Colorado jails for people with specific health conditions: As with many other states in the nation, individuals with serious mental health conditions are entering the criminal justice system at alarming rates, often as a result of unmet health needs. Not only are individuals with mental health conditions more likely to be incarcerated longer, they are also more likely to be placed in solitary confinement while in jail. The practice of solitary confinement has detrimental impacts on individuals with health conditions such as mental health disorders and dementia. Multiple studies have shown that the psychological stress created from solitary is comparable to distress of physical torture.

        Proposed Bill: Create a new transportation alternative and reimbursement model for people in a mental health crisis so that people are not transported by law enforcement to a health care facility: An individual experiencing a behavioral health crisis is often transported by an ambulance or a law enforcement patrol car. Lights and sirens can exacerbate a crisis, and law enforcement response further stigmatizes mental health.

        Study Area: Keep a spotlight on enhanced sentencing laws and other practices that disproportionately impact individuals in a mental health crisis by engaging stakeholders and key decisions makers on the issue

        No one should fear calling 911 when they or their loved one is in a mental health crisis because they fear they will end up in jail with felony charges, or worse. We are spearheading continued conversations about effective ways to keep first responders safe while not criminalizing individuals who need crisis services.

        • End shame and discrimination

          Mental health—like physical health—is part of who we are. Increasingly, we need to be understanding and compassionate with ourselves and others.

          Study Area: Create a stakeholder process to outline best practices when individuals are placed on an involuntary hold

          Individuals who are placed on involuntary mental health holds often experience traumatic and discriminatory practices that lead to further harm. Colorado needs to reassess what happens to consumers during and after an involuntary civil commitment to ensure better treatment and outcomes for that individual.