Lawmakers tackled suicide prevention from many angles this year, including introducing rules for insurance companies, lowering the age students can seek out care and banning the sharing of images depicting death by suicide.
The bills, now headed for Gov. Jared Polis’ desk, are aimed at enhancing mental health care given to students, addressing online suicide games and ensuring mental health care is available for depression and other conditions, said Moe Keller, Mental Health Colorado director of advocacy and a former state senator.
The bills garnered support from many parents and school districts eager to address the growing number of deaths by suicide, she said.
“It’s so out of hand very few schools are not in some way touched,” Keller said.
Rep. Barbara McLachlan said lawmakers approached the issue with a sense of urgency because it is a growing problem, particularly in rural Colorado where residents are isolated.
In 2017, a record 1,175 Coloradans died by suicide, of which 187 were younger than 25, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In La Plata County, the community has experienced youth suicide clusters and historically high suicide rates.
Lawmakers still have work to do to address mental health needs, such as expanding the amount of inpatient and residential care available to children and teens, Keller said.
Some measures passed this spring include:
House Bill 19-1269 seeks to make mental health care more available by requiring insurance companies to have adequate networks of providers offering covered services.If a patient lives far away from providers covered by their insurance, the insurance company must cover mental health care closer to the patient. The Colorado insurance commissioner will set the maximum distance a patient could be required to travel for care before an insurance company is required to cover an alternative.
The bill would also require insurance companies to report to the insurance commissioner about the mental health care services they provide to patients.
HB 19-1120 will allow students as young as 12 years old to seek mental health care without parental consent at least for a few visits, Moe said. The bill lowered the age students can seek care without parental consent from 15 to 12.The bill would give students an additional outlet for support particularly if they are unable to talk to their parents, McLachlan said.
In Durango School District 9-R, students are required to have parental consent to seek care at 9-R school-based clinics run by Axis Health System.
HB 19-1334 makes it illegal to share images of minors dying by suicide through social media or other electronic means. Those who share the images could face a fine or a misdemeanor charge. Keller said the law is intended to send a message that online suicide games aren’t funny. Suicide games, she said, encourage students to participate in self-destructive behavior.The law makes exceptions for images that are fictional, part of a documentary, related to public interest or related to reporting a crime.
Senate Bill 19-10 sets aside $3 million from marijuana tax dollars for grants that could be used by schools for behavioral health care. The money can also be used for schoolwide programs to improve school climate and programs to prevent suspension and expulsion.HB 19-1129 bans mental health specialists from providing gender conversion therapy to minors who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.LGBTQ children rejected by their families and sent to conversion therapy are eight times more likely than their straight and cisgender peers to attempt suicide, said Jennifer Stucka, a founder of The Rainbow Youth Center in an email sent in March to The Durango Herald. A cisgendered person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
The bill would prohibit licensed mental health providers from attempting to change a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also ban attempts to eliminate or reduce a minor’s sexual or romantic attraction toward members of the same sex, according to the draft bill.