Mental Health Updates

Mental Health Updates

Friends and neighbors, 

The legislative session is in full swing and we are tackling a long list of pressing issues for the people of Colorado. Currently, I am focusing on many projects, one of which includes the legislation that was developed by the Substance Use Disorders interim committee. Our four bills, concerning prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery, will all require considerable work to get across the finish line. But there are many meaningful ideas contained in these four bills that I believe will continue Colorado’s progress and help us finally turn the corner on the overdose crisis.

As I work on these issues, I can’t help but think about the intersection between substance abuse and mental health. We all have friends or family members who have struggled with mental health, and many of us have seen how much it can mean to have access to resources, compassionate communities, and professional help when needed. 

Destigmatizing and expanding access to mental health treatment is more urgent now than ever before. During my time at the legislature, I have been involved in dedicating significant funds, mostly from marijuana tax revenues and federal aid through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, to expand infrastructure to support people in various ways to address mental health and substance use issues. 

We need to do more, and I am committed to working tirelessly to establish a mental health system in Colorado that provides resources to every individual who needs them. 

As this work continues, I wanted to provide an update on several pieces of mental health legislation making their way through the State Capitol.


SB24-001: Continue Youth Mental Health Services Program

This bill makes the I Matter program a permanent program that provides free therapy sessions to youth in response to the ongoing mental health crisis. The I Matter program has already made a positive impact by offering up to six free therapy sessions per year to over 7,900 young people. The bill also adds new procurement and data collection requirements for the Behavioral Health Administration to ensure better oversight.


HB24-1081: Regulate Sale Transfer Sodium Nitrite

This bill regulates the sale of sodium nitrite products, which have been used in some suicide attempts often through so-called “suicide kits” promoted online. These kits with sodium nitrite emerged as an alternative means of attempting suicide after initial recreational use. Regulating access to these kits by requiring verification of commercial need before a sale, clear labeling warning against ingestion, and sales record retention can help address this dangerous method of attempting suicide as part of the broader mental health crisis response.


HB24-1136: Healthier Social Media Use by Youth

Data shows that youth who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including anxiety and depression symptoms. This bill creates resources and programs to address the negative mental health impacts of problematic social media use and requires platforms to display warnings about the potential harms of excessive or late-night use.


SB24-007: Behavioral Health First Aid Training Program 

The bill establishes the Behavioral Health First Aid Training Program within the Office of Suicide Prevention in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The program aims to educate members of the community on how to respond effectively during a mental health or substance use crisis until professional help arrives. Modeled after medical first aid, the program provides valuable skills such as recognizing signs of distress, active listening, offering support, assessing risk, and connecting people to the necessary care. The program uses a train-the-trainer approach to spread mental health skills to schools, non-profits, first responders, and other community members. By increasing mental health first aid capacity, the program aims to encourage early intervention and save lives.


HB24-1015: Workplace Suicide Prevention Education

Suicide has claimed 3,951 lives in Colorado between 2020-2022, demonstrating the need for broader prevention. This bill instructs the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) to develop suicide prevention education materials for employers to display that will include information on prevention training programs, information on reducing access to means of self-harm, including firearms, and information on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It also requires the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to create a website with additional suicide prevention resources. The workplace can provide one of many points of intervention and having resources visibly posted can promote help-seeking and crisis-response skills among working Coloradans.


SB24-057: Agricultural Workforce & Suicide Prevention

This bill will create a suicide prevention and mental health program tailored specifically to agricultural workers, who have been disproportionately impacted by isolation, economic uncertainty, lack of access to care, and other stressors. It provides customized supports including a crisis hotline, coordinated suicide prevention and crisis management services, and a public awareness campaign to promote suicide prevention. 


SB24-068: Medical Aid-in-Dying

I know this issue is controversial to some, but I’ll tell you why I support this measure. This bill responsibly expands end-of-life options for terminally ill patients who may be experiencing unbearable mental or physical distress related to their illness. By allowing advanced practice registered nurses to evaluate requests and prescribe medication, removing the state residency requirement, reducing the waiting period between requests to 48 hours, and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage, we will increase options for terminally ill adults to end suffering on their own terms while preserving strict eligibility criteria.

That’s all for now and I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon!

Chris

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