DENVER — Colorado lawmakers passed multiple bills during the abbreviated session aimed at improving access to mental health services. The bills help school-aged children with access to crisis treatment, expand access to services in rural areas via telehealth, and give employees more flexibility to seek mental health care.
Moe Keller, Director of Advocacy for the nonprofit group Mental Health Colorado, said in a virtual media round table discussion Thursday that a growing number of students contact the Safe2Tell tip line struggling with mental health needs. Safe2Tell was created after the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School as a way for students to anonymously report potential threats.
The program is designed to quickly alert law enforcement officers of those threats. However, Keller explained that calls and text messages from students who are feeling suicidal also result in law enforcement notification. House Bill 1113 enables Safe2Tell to work refer students who need mental health to Colorado Crisis Services.
"Law enforcement is not the appropriate responder to those kids of calls," Keller said. "As a matter of fact, it can be traumatic to a youngster when they confide in someone, whether that's a friend or faculty member, and they call Safe2Tell, and law enforcement shows up."
House Bill 1312 aims to better prepare public school teachers to spot signs of mental illness in their students. The bill requires 10 of the 90 hours of certification training teachers must take be from courses on behavioral health.
Senate Bill 212 allows patients to see a mental health professional using telehealth even if it is their first visit. Previously, Medicaid patients were required to have 12 months worth of in-person visits before telehealth was an option. Keller believes this change will make it easier for people everywhere to access mental health care.
"We talk about stigma a lot, especially in rural areas, and especially among men, they don't want others to know that they're seeking assistance for a mental health condition such as depression, such as anxiety," she said.
Another major change is the establishment of mandatory paid sick leave. Senate Bill 205 protects employees who need to take two weeks off from work because someone in the household tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, the bill requires all employers to pay for employees to have up to 48 hours of paid sick leave a year for any illness. Employees accrue one hour of leave for every 30 hours on the clock.
"Mental health is not about some small number of people over there somewhere. It's actually something that is as common to all of us as our physical health," said Vincent Atchity, CEO of Mental Health Colorado.
The organization highlighted more than two dozen bills it supported this session in their 2020 Legislative Report. That document also provides a scorecard indicating how each individual member of the General Assembly voted on nine key bills.