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Coalition pushes for state leaders to allocate $150M to youth mental health

Posted at 7:54 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 22:26:05-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — A coalition of stakeholders is calling on state lawmakers to allocate $150 million of American Rescue Funds to youth mental health.

Children's Hospital Colorado held a virtual roundtable Tuesday to discuss the current state of the youth mental health crisis and solutions that policymakers could enact to turn it around. The hospital along with Healthier Colorado, Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care, and the Colorado Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released The Children and Youth Mental Health Playbook which outlines actionable opportunities for policymakers.

"We can't evolve as humans, lovers, and people if we don't uplift this new generation of youth," said Ashley O'Day.

The college freshman helped create a peer-to-peer mental health support group at her online high school.

"We started by sending out postcards and checking in with freshman and new students. We decided we wanted to do something bigger and decided to start sending gifts, postcards, and sweet notes to nursing homes and care facilities," said O'Day.

She took part in the roundtable discussion to bring attention to the issue, and spotlight the need for teen and kid voices at the table.

"It's important to invite youth to these discussions to brainstorm possible solutions, especially when many adults don't understand what an era communicating on social media may look like and how friendships are born in this era," said O'Day.

“The time to act is now,” said Healthier Colorado Executive Director Jake Williams. “Suicide should not be the leading cause of death for Colorado kids ages 10 to 18. This cannot continue to be our reality, and we are here this morning to continue our collective efforts to bring the relief that our children and youth deserve. The critical investment and solutions outlined in The Children and Youth Mental Health Playbook is needed to address our prevailing crisis.”

"This really hit home for me on a Friday, when four out of sixteen teens confided in me that they were having suicidal thoughts," said Dr. Sophia Meharena, Every Child Pediatrics.

She's among many health care professionals pushing for lawmakers to allocate at least one-third, or $150 million, of $450 million in federal funding toward children's mental health.

"The emergency response playbook offers a tangible opportunity level at the local, state and federal to acknowledge and take responsibility for failures to the current system and take actionable steps to rebuild a system that works for stakeholders," said Jenna Glover, Children's Hospital Colorado.

"The one thing policymakers, teachers, parents can do right now listen to youth voices. Listen to advocates, and listen to the people experiencing these issues," said O'Day.