Cutter, Soper, Amabile, Young

From left, Reps. Lisa Cutter, Matt Soper, Judy Amabile and Mary Young.

The Colorado House passed two bills this week to try to curb Colorado's suicide rate and help callers get the mental health services they need with two respective three-digit phone numbers.

Senate Bill 154 would launch the 9-8-8 national suicide prevention lifeline network in Colorado next January. The legislation was carried through Congress by former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma who lost his seat last year.

The bill passed Thursday by a vote of 53-10.

Senate Bill 239 aims to improve the 2-1-1 Statewide Human Services Referral System. The bill appropriates $1 million to expand referral services authorized by the Colorado 2-1-1 collaborative to include referrals for behavioral health services and other resources in the state. By doing so, the 2-1-1 hotline will be able to connect more Coloradans with the mental health services they need. The bill additionally focuses on connecting Coloradans who are unemployed or who do not have health benefits to mental and behavioral health services. The bill passed Tuesday by a vote of 48-15.

In 2019, Colorado had 1,287 suicides, the 10th highest of any state, 21.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

“Suicide in general, and particularly teen suicide, has risen dramatically in Colorado over the last several years," said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, who is sponsoring the 9-8-8 bill in the House with Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta. "Establishing the 9-8-8 suicide prevention network in Colorado will provide a lifeline for people having a mental health crisis. I’m thrilled that this critical bill is almost to the finish line.”

The bill was introduced in the upper chamber by Sens. Chris Kolker, D-Centennial, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa.

The bill went through the House unamended, which means it goes next to the governor's desk.

The other phone bill, to invest $1 million in the 2-1-1 help line, connects Coloradans to a range of referrals. The legislation was sponsored by Reps. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, and Mary Young, D-Greeley. Kolker and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, introduced the bill in the Senate.

SB 236 passed 48-15 on Tuesday unamended, meaning it too will be before Gov. Jared Polis to sign.

“Navigating the behavioral health system is sometimes the single most significant barrier to accessing care," Amabile said in a statement. "By adding behavioral health services to the 2-1-1 hotline, we’re creating a new entry point for Coloradans to be connected to the mental health care and services they need.”

Young said the pandemic has made it only more challenging to connect with behavioral health providers.

“Soon, Coloradans will be able to dial 2-1-1 and be connected with critical mental health care services," she stated. "This, in addition to the 2-1-1 system, will benefit a lot of Coloradans, and especially people who are unemployed or do not have health care.”

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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