Colorado Bills Aim To Help Schools Promote Mental Health

Recognizing the youth mental health crisis in the Mountain West, some states are debating bills that address the problem from both inside and outside of schools.

Colorado state Sen. Rhonda Fields is sponsoring two such bills. One provides funding to train teachers and administrators in mental health first aid.

“Just like we have CPR first aid training, we would like to have that same type of emphasis as relates to behavioral health,” Fields said.

She wants school personnel to be trained to recognize when a student is at risk for depression or suicide. 

“We’re not asking for teachers or administrators to diagnose or treat,” she said. “We’re just saying we’re seeing signs in someone that used to be happy one day and now all of a sudden they’re demonstrating behaviors that just seem like they need some help.”

Her other bill expands the definition for excused absences to include mental health disturbances.

“Let’s say you are sad because you lost your dog or you lost your grandma or you saw something traumatic in your home,” she says. “There’s not an opportunity to recognize a behavioral health illness as an excused absence.”

Fields says we still need resources to employ more mental health workers in schools. But she says these efforts are a start towards identifying and making space for young people’s struggles.

While the bills have bipartisan support, Fields acknowledges there could be some pushback due to the cost of mental health training, which could reach $1 million per year.

The Mountain West suffers some of the highest rates of youth suicide rates in the county—in some communities as much as two to three times the national average.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.