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Among the five bills that Governor Jared Polis signed into law on Friday, are two companion bills  with major importance to Colorado’s rural communities: both focus on behavioral health and the growing Colorado suicide rates.

HB21-1097 Establish Behavioral Health Administration – Sponsored by Representatives M. Young & R. Pelton and Senators R. Fields & B. Gardner

The bill addresses multiple recommendations from the Colorado behavioral health task force (task force), created in 2019, related to the creation of a Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). The BHA would be a single state agency to lead, promote, and administer the state’s behavioral health priorities.

The bill was introduced in response to the rising Colorado rates of depression and suicide.  Some 1,287 Coloradans lost their lives to suicide in 2019. This was not only an increase from the year before, it was also a higher number of suicides than has ever been recorded in the state.

The impacts of 2020, a year fraught with stress, job loss, fear, and isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic, are not yet known. But in the past year, the governor set up a task force to review the data, across Colorado’s counties and these bills are directly related to the effort to this effort to understand the state’s behavioral health crisis.

The rate of suicide in Colorado remained the same between 2018 and 2019, but the number of lives lost each year in the state has been slowly increasing since 2013.

The most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in 2018, Colorado had one of the 10 highest age-adjusted suicide death rates in the nation, at 21.9 deaths per 100,000 people. Higher-than-national rates of death by suicide have been a consistent trend in Colorado, along with other mountain states like Montana and Wyoming.

The bill requires the Department of Human Services (department) to submit a plan for the creation and establishment of the BHA on or before November 1, 2021, to the Joint Budget Committee and on or before January 30, 2022, to the department’s committees of reference. The bill outlines what the plan must, at a minimum, include. The essential duties of the BHA, once established, are set forth.

A timeline is described for the establishment of the BHA in the department and for a future determination of what state department, if different than the Department of Human Services, the BHA will exist.

HB21-1119 Suicide Prevention, Intervention, & Postvention – Sponsored by Representatives  J. Rich & L. Daugherty and Senators K. Donovan & D. Coram

The bill focuses on lowering the high Colorado suicide rate by enhancing care for persons affected by suicide and broadens Colorado’s focus to include suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.

It includes education on suicide attempts and the after-effects of those actions on attempt survivors, their family, friends, health care providers, first and last responders, educators, and students in schools where a suicide or suicide attempt has occurred.