2014 Legislative Session Hits and Misses on Mental Health Issues

Mental health was once again a topic of concern for the 2014 Colorado legislative session, with one achievement being the creation of a commission to better understand and combat the state’s high suicide rate.

But, overall, the issue didn’t gain as much traction this year as it did in 2013, reports Bente Birkeland of KUNC Community Radio.

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleon, sponsored the bill creating the suicide prevention commission. It will include people from several different sectors, including nonprofits to businesses and mental health professionals.

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, sponsored successful legislation to create a state suicide commission.

State Sen. Linda Newell

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, sponsored successful legislation to create a state suicide commission.

“We don’t have anybody to be the glue,”  Newell told Birkeland. “They’re all doing their individual things, which are phenomenal things, but they aren’t well enough done if we still have the highest suicide rate we’ve had in history.”

According to the most recent national data, Colorado has the 8th highest suicide rate among the states.

Another major proposal, to change the definitions for people who are involuntarily committed on mental health holds, didn’t fare as well after it became embroiled in a controversy over whether it would curtail gun rights, Birkeland reported.

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, was sponsor of the measure, arguing that the  current standard that one poses an imminent treat to one’s self or others is too vague.

“I used to run an adolescent crisis center for teenagers,” Kraft-Tharp told Birkeland, referring to her 25 years in experience in the mental health field. “We found a girl hanging in the shower. We cut her down, we called the mental health center and they came an hour later and said she’s not in imminent danger, she looks fine, she’s sitting next to you. Imminent is a very subjective standard, everyone interprets it differently.”

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a gun rights group, maintained that more people would be civilly committed under a changed definition, impacting their right to own a gun. “That messaging was not helpful because people started to believe it had to do with gun rights,” Kraft-Tharp told KUNC.

One of the state’s major initiatives from 2013, establishing a statewide network of mental health crisis centers, is tied up in litigation. But a statewide mental health crisis 24-hour hotline is moving ahead as scheduled.

KUNC teamed with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News in producing reports around the I-News series, “Untreated: How ignoring mental health costs us all.”


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