Opinion | Dylan Roberts: Let’s talk about mental health
Colorado state senator
We need to do more to support our communities struggling with mental health. We need to talk about mental health and end the stigma around asking for help. We need to fund our behavioral health services to ensure no one in our state spends months on a waiting list for life-saving care. We need to and will do better. As your state senator, I am working to help our state and local communities do just that.
In recent years, our state has experienced an unprecedented mental health crisis. Last year, one in four Coloradans reported experiencing poor mental health. While we know that the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health challenges nationwide, we’re still seeing our communities struggle in the aftermath. Many Coloradans continue to be challenged by economic instability, drug and alcohol addiction, housing insecurity, and many other circumstances that can compound mental health challenges.
Further, a lack of affordable treatment options and societal stigma serves as a barrier for many to access care, and I know these issues are especially prevalent in our rural areas. During last week’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Day at the Capitol, I met with constituents from across Senate District 8 who have dealt with the unimaginable tragedy of losing a loved one to suicide. In many of these stories, I learned how swifter and more robust intervention could have prevented such losses. I know that accounts like these weigh heavy on my conscience and that of my fellow elected officials.
At the legislature, we have heard loud and clear that our communities need more support, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far to expand access to essential behavioral health care. Last session, we were able to use one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to invest a historic $450 million toward expanding behavioral health services statewide, including the following allocations:
- $119 million to increase residential bed capacity statewide for youth and adults
- $90 million in grants for local government, nonprofits and providers to expand behavioral health services
- $72 million to invest in Colorado’s behavioral health workforce, including in retention and recruitment strategies
- $63 million toward programs that redirect people with behavioral health needs from involvement with the criminal justice system
- $47 million toward programs to improve coordination and integration between primary and behavioral health care services
- $19 million to advance school-based and other youth oriented behavioral health care services
These programs aim to ensure that providers can intervene at every stage of care — from early, school-based intervention for youth to residential treatment for adults. As many of these funds trickle into care institutions over the next few years, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of our communities receiving the services they need.
But there is so much more to do, and we aren’t stopping there. I and my fellow legislators are working on programs that will make it easier to access mental health services, particularly among our youth. I look forward to supporting HB23-1003, which builds upon Colorado’s I Matter program by allowing schools to administer voluntary in-person mental health evaluations for sixth to 12th graders on a yearly basis. This effort will not only help schools and families detect early signs of mental health challenges but will also help students develop literacy in discussing and advocating for their emotional well being.
I am also the proud prime sponsor of HB23-1007, which expands on our work last year to put crisis suicide information on high school student ID cards. This bill will ensure that college students have information about care options and also hopefully feel more comfortable opening up about mental health challenges. This bill has passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support and is on the way to the governor for his signature.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, I hope you’ll take advantage of some of the following state resources:
- I Matter: Provides six free counseling sessions to youth in Colorado
- Spark the Change: Provides free, short-term counseling services to individuals who are uninsured or experiencing other barriers to treatment
- Colorado Crisis Services: A free 24/7 crisis hotline
- Mind Springs Health: Routt County mental health services, treatment guidance, referrals and scheduling. 24/7 crisis hotline: 1-888-207-4004.
Furthermore, as we continue to consider legislation, I invite you to reach out to me to share your perspectives and feedback on how we can best serve our communities. Please feel free to attend one of our upcoming in-person and/or virtual town hall meetings, as well as contact me directly at email@example.com or on my cell at 970-846-3054.
Dylan Roberts is the state senator for Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.
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