After 65 years of leading the fight for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, Mental Health Colorado has recently achieved the most significant accomplishments in our history. From the Capitol to the classroom, Mental Health Colorado’s advocacy efforts have paid off—securing nearly $10 million in 2018 and $20 million in 2019 for critical mental health and substance use care.

We led the fight for mental health parity—holding insurers accountable to the law that says they must treat mental health equal to physical health. House Bill 19-1269 strengthens parity laws, modernizes language, and shifts our system away from expensive, late-stage treatment toward early intervention. It increases consumer protection, holds insurers accountable, and closes loopholes in current law to ensure no more Coloradans fall through the cracks. We also championed legislation that created a statewide Behavioral Health Care Ombuds Office to help Coloradans navigate the insurance system—a model already being used in other states

Each year, 35,000 Coloradans are placed on an emergency hold. But when those 72 hours are up, many never get the care they need. We championed legislation to end the cycle of crisis and help Coloradans transition back into the community following a mental health or substance use crisis. People who have been placed on mental health or substance use emergency holds can now be referred to specialists for help accessing treatment, housing, and other necessary services.

We led the effort to reauthorize the Child Mental Health Treatment Act, which ensures parents won’t have to give up custody to get treatment for their children. Mental Health Colorado Advocacy Director and former state Senator Moe Keller identifies the law as the most significant legislative accomplishment of her career. The reauthorization of the bill removed a sunset provision in the original law and tripled the program budget so that more children will be able to access critical services.

House Bill 19-1044 took us a step closer to treating mental health equal to physical health. The law allows Coloradans to create a psychiatric advance directive to specify their preferred methods of treatment in the event of a mental health crisis that prevents them from making decisions for themselves.

Beyond our legislative victories at the Capitol, we provided technical assistance on ballot initiatives in Denver, Larimer, San Miguel, and Summit Counties. Together with Eagle County, which passed a similar measure in 2017, these five communities will collect nearly $70 million a year to support the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.

We created the School Mental Health Toolkit, a free guide for school and community leaders to promote school-based mental health. The toolkit is a one-stop shop for educators and advocates. Former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman awarded a $2.8 million grant to Children’s Hospital Colorado and Mental Health Colorado to launch a statewide initiative to improve children’s mental health, including implementation of our School Mental Health Toolkit. We continue to prioritize the needs of young Coloradans. Our Early Childhood Mental Health Toolkit will help support social and emotional development during the critical period from birth to age 5.

Mental Health Colorado’s statewide network of advocates—the Brain Wave—are peers, family members, mental health providers, and others who are invested in helping to inform our policy priorities and push forward our advocacy efforts. By sharing their personal experiences of mental illness or substance use with lawmakers and the media, Brain Wave members help illustrate the barriers to care that Coloradans face, humanize policy discussions, and shatter the stigma that exists around many of these topics. Their voices shape public policy and public opinion. The Brain Wave boasts nearly 1,000 members across the state and represents every state legislative district and 42 counties.

In response to overwhelming demand from local leaders throughout the state, Mental Health Colorado is developing a resource guide for local governments, communities, and advocates to improve mental health and substance use services in their communities. We will continue to guide local advocates through the process of drafting ballot initiatives for mental health funding.