The bills focus on mental health, wellness resources for Colorado students

DENVER — The past few years have been especially difficult for Colorado students. Between the social pressures of growing up and the stress of the pandemic, many students are struggling.

A study by Healthy Kids Colorado found that in 2021, 40 percent of respondents reported stopping normal activities because they felt helpless or sad for at least two weeks.

Over the past few legislative sessions, lawmakers have passed legislation to offer more funding and resources to students. This year, they hope to expand on that work.

Assessment of student mental health

Bill 23-1003, also known as the School Mental Health Assessment, would have voluntary mental health assessments administered annually by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Schools can decide whether or not to participate in the assessment.

“It shows where students are in school. We would bring the screeners to their school, just like you would get an eye exam or an ear exam at school. But this time it’s a mental health evaluation,” said Congresswoman Daphne Michelson Jennett, D-Commerce City.

As it stands, the bill requires any school that chooses to participate to send written notice to parents within the first two weeks of the start of the school year. Parents can decide if they want their child to receive the assessments, but Colorado law gives children over the age of 12 the right to consent to the assessments themselves.

“Sometimes they need to talk to someone other than their parent. And they deserve privacy, just like we deserve privacy,” Michelson Gennett said. “The kids were saying to us, ‘Why do I have to talk to this therapist?’ Because they’re just going to call my mom after and say everything I said. And so they won’t talk to the therapist, they’ll shut up, or they’ll lie. So we had to create a way for them to have authentic access to therapy.”

The bill will face its first committee hearing on February 7.

Substance Abuse Help for Students

Another bill aims to address substance use and abuse among high school students. House Bill 23-1009 would create a 12-person commission to connect students with resources to help.

The committee will be tasked with developing practices to identify students in schools who may need substance use treatment or intervention.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Mandy Lindsey, D-Aurora, says there are already prevention programs in schools to discourage students from using drugs and alcohol to begin with, as well as programs focused on crisis intervention. This bill will help fill the gaps.

“Prevention is great. And then, obviously, treating children who are really in crisis is extremely important. It’s kind of about that everywhere in the middle. Many children are casual users of things, using them for the first time. So it gives them an opportunity to even talk about things like vaping and alcohol,” Lindsey said.

Lindsay is a mother of four and says she knows the pressures students face in school, social groups, the pandemic and more. Nowadays, there are also more enticing options for teenagers like vape pens.

She hopes this bill will offer the state the direction it needs to curb student drug and alcohol use and help students before things reach a crisis level.

“This behavioral health struggle right now for young people is huge, and they’re clamoring to tell us what their problems are, what they need. And so for me, as a mother, as a legislator, I say, “Okay, I hear you. What can we do?’ And let’s get to it,” Lindsey said.

CPR training in schools

One bill that affects physical health this session is Senate Bill 23-023. This would require the Colorado Department of Education to adopt a curriculum for training in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

It also encourages all schools to adopt a CPR and AED curriculum in schools.

“We’re not pushing this, but we’re just trying to shine a light,” said Sen. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction.

Rich says this is already the standard for CDEs, but the bill will shine a light on the need for more training and may encourage more students to think about entering the medical field.

“No matter where you are, if an accident happens, do you really want to just stand there and watch them disappear? Or you might be able to do something based on it,” Rich said.

She acknowledges that not all schools will have the funding for these programs, but says there are grants to help and that education can play a critical role in saving a life.

The bill passed its first test in committee on Wednesday and continues in the legislative process.

Other accounts

Along with mental health assessments, lawmakers also introduced bills to offer more information to students, along with hiring additional mental health professionals in schools.

House Bill 23-1007 requires post-secondary ID cards issued next school year to include crisis and suicide prevention contact information. If student ID numbers are not used, institutions will be required to disseminate Colorado Crisis Services and 988 information at the beginning of each semester.

That bill passed its first test in committee on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 23-004 would allow school districts to hire licensed mental health professionals who are not licensed by the Department of Education. These professionals may be supervised by a mentor or school district administrator. The goal is to provide more resources in schools for student mental health.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for consideration.

Lawmakers say even with all these bills, there’s still a lot of work to do to help students, but they’re determined to find ways to help.

“Every legislative session we cut and cut and cut. Until we start seeing suicide rates go down, until we start getting responses to the Healthy Kids survey that kids are doing great, until kids start telling us they’re fine, until emergency rooms stop filling up, we still have work to do,” Michelson Jennett said.

The follow up

What do you want Denver7 to track? Have a story, topic, or issue you’d like us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *