By: John Bear

August 24, 2018

Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the state House of Representatives and now president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, wants the state to become a national leader in mental health care. (Courtesy photo)

Andrew Romanoff, president and chief executive officer of Mental Health Colorado wants Colorado to be a national leader when it comes to mental health care.

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

“We are not there yet,” Romanoff said. “We are 43rd.”

Romanoff, who is a former speaker of the house for the state Legislature, was at Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Arts Friday night to participate in a panel on mental health and gun safety with a focus on gun issues. The event was held in coordination with Colorado Ceasefire, whose stated mission is “working for freedom from gun violence.”

“We estimate that about a million people in the state every year experience a mental health or substance abuse issue,” Romanoff said. “Only about half of them get the care they require.”

Reasons for that shortfall in care vary and can include a lack of access and providers, no insurance coverage or the belief that one’s insurance doesn’t cover mental health care, he said. Romanoff added that reasons change in different regions of the state. In rural areas, a person might be afraid of seeking help because of a fear damaging one’s reputation in a town where everyone knows your name.

The state has a high suicide rate, Romanoff said, and although about two-thirds of annual gun deaths in the United States are from suicide, its closer to 75 or 80 percent in Colorado. Guns also increase the likelihood that a suicide attempt will be successful, he said.

Colorado Ceasefire states that where there are higher levels of gun ownership, there are more suicides and accidental gun deaths.

Mental Health Colorado supported a Red Flag law that failed to pass the state Senate earlier this year. The bill would have allowed relatives, household members or police to petition a judge to issue a temporary protection order for the removal of firearms from a person deemed an “extreme risk.”

The court would then have held a second hearing within a week on whether to weigh evidence that would have barred the person from having or receiving a firearm for six months — and potentially longer.

Mental Health Colorado has a wide ranging agenda to improve mental health care in the state. That includes an effort for more such care in schools and normalizing mental illness so it is treated more like a separated shoulder than something to be ashamed of (the same for substance abuse).

“I don’t want to suggest that if we do everything on our agenda that we will be able to end gun violence in America,” Romanoff said. “But if you have 1,100 suicides in Colorado every year and you want to reduce that number, there are some steps we can take. … We’d like to get that number down to zero.”

The Denver Post contributed to this report.

Article appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.

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