OPINION: Mental Health Colorado’s Legislative Report

July 27, 2021

Article originally found on the Pagosa Daily Post

This op-ed is adapted from the Mental Health Colorado’s 2021 Legislative Report.

In 2020, millions of us were forced into isolation, and anxiety was at an all-time high due to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. As we move into a post-vaccine world, we are seeing a secondary pandemic of mental health and substance use concern, and we must be prepared to deal with the increased demand for care and support. These needs are reflected in our 2021 policy priorities.

Our priorities in this report reflect the need for support across the lifespan. All of Colorado’s children deserve a strong start. Families should have the support they need. Mental well-being should be attainable for older adults. Coloradans should have access to quality, affordable health care and housing. We must reduce the potential harm caused by drugs and alcohol. Jails and prisons should not be our largest mental health facilities. Mental health discrimination should be a thing of the past.

Each policy priority positively impacts the well-being of our state and will help Colorado achieve healthier minds from one end of life to the other.

Download the Legislative Report & Scorecard here.

A few of the many legislative remedies approved during the 2021 General Assembly:

SB21-154: 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
Colorado’s suicide rate is one 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 and substance use 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, resulting in $12 million annually to support the crisis hotline and correlating crisis response.

HB21-1276: Prevention Of Substance Use Disorders
Makes several changes to state law concerning the prevention of opioid and other substance use disorders and 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. The bill also creates prescribing limits for benzodiazepines and extends the prescribing limits for opioids.

HB21-1021: Peer Support Professionals Behavioral Health
In the past two years, the number of Coloradans who didn’t receive mental health or substance use care that they needed nearly doubled—yet, in 2019, Colorado’s behavioral health workforce only met 30% of the state’s need. Peer Support Professionals are individuals in recovery from mental health or substance use conditions who help others experiencing similar situations. HB21-1021 expands the reach of peer recovery support service programs by ensuring that peers are more widely available, reasonably compensated, and well-trained.

HB21-1094: Foster Youth In Transition Program
Creates a foster youth-in-transition program to be implemented throughout the state. The program will allow foster youth who meet eligibility criteria to voluntarily continue to receive certain child welfare services so that youth do not lose access to essential services on their eighteenth birthday.

SB21-194: Maternal Health Providers
Places new requirements on certain health care providers, health benefit plans, and Medicaid related to pregnant persons. The birth of a child is one of the most intense and emotional experiences in one’s life. Childbirth trauma and low-quality perinatal services can be significant stressors and triggers for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even psychosis. High-quality perinatal care reduces the prevalence of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

HB21-1097: Establish Behavioral Health Administration
Creates a Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) to lead, promote, and administer Colorado’s behavioral health priorities. This was a top priority in Governor Polis’ Behavioral Health Task Force Recommendations.

Mental Health Colorado’s statewide network of advocates dismantling barriers to mental health and substance use care and working to create healthier minds across the lifespan. Learn more: mentalhealthcolorado.org/jointhewave