These bills will help create healthier minds across life spans in Colorado

Originally appeared in the Denver Business Journal

Written by: Vincent Atchity, President & CEO, Mental Health Colorado

“The first wealth is health.” Ralph Waldo Emerson penned these words knowing that good health is essential to a full and flourishing life. But there is no health without mental health — mind and body are inextricably linked.

From before birth and well into old age, mental health is key if we are to thrive. Mental Health Colorado defines seven goals for creating healthier minds across the life span.

A strong start for all children

We develop brains and behaviors at a rapid pace, not fully maturing until as late as our mid-20s. Preventative care and healthy learning environments ensure healthy minds and bright futures.

We know that children will be deeply affected by the trauma of the pandemic. Mental Health Colorado is working to pass House Bill 1312 (HB20-1312), which will prepare teachers to support their students’ ongoing mental health needs so all of Colorado’s children get a strong start.

Support for families

Strong, healthy families make for strong, healthy individuals. House Bill 1006 (HB20-1006) will make sure our early childhood educators are well prepared to meet mental health needs so families are well supported.

Access to housing, support and services

What would your mental health be like today if you didn’t know where you were spending the night? Having a home is an essential element of good mental health across the life span. Additionally, access to support and services prolongs life and enhances mental health outcomes.

We must be sure that all Coloradans have access to care as our communities and economies recover from Covid-19. House Bill 1139 (HB-1139) bolsters the mental health workforce to ensure Coloradans aren’t going without care.

Wellness in aging

From childhood to old age, the quality of our lives depends on our mental health. Every phase of life brings its own challenges and opportunities for continuing mental growth and development. A healthy mind could be the key to longevity. A Yale study on aging found that seniors with a positive view of their lives lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with more negative views.

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 the life-enhancing benefits of potent substances while reducing their potential for great harm. These times of high stress and isolation leave us more vulnerable than ever to the potential harm of drugs and alcohol. House Bill 1085 (HB20-1085) and Senate Bill 007 (SB20-007) reduce the risk of harmful substance use and increase access to care for recovery.

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, we believe, 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 well-being.

All Coloradans are doing their part to slow the spread of Covid-19 and ensure our emergency rooms and hospitals aren’t overcrowded. Mental Health Colorado is working to pass House Bill 1284 (HB21284), which will strengthen our health care system by providing a transportation alternative for people in a mental health crisis. People who need health care shouldn’t be transported in handcuffs by a patrol car, and lights and sirens from ambulances can exacerbate a mental health crisis. This transportation alternative will free up ambulances and emergency rooms currently used for individuals in a mental health crisis.

End shame and discrimination

We need to be increasingly understanding and compassionate with ourselves and others when it comes to our mental health. The shame of talking about mental health has taken a notable shift during this pandemic. It’s not uncommon to ask a coworker about their mental health or to video chat with someone just to admit you’re feeling lonely or anxious. These are behaviors we should continue long after this crisis passes.

There are many uncertainties right now, but what we do know is that all Coloradans — and everyone in the world — now have a much keener understanding of the vital way in which our mental and our physical health are connected.

Through all seasons of life — through bull and bear markets, pandemics and times of immense joy or sorrow — we need each other’s support to do well. So, remember to breathe. Focus on what you can control. And don’t miss any chance to practice active kindness.

Learn more or support our work at