February 26th is the first ever suicide prevention day is held at the Colorado state legislature. The event is organized by a coalition of four non-profits: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, Mental Health Colorado, and NAMI Colorado.
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for Colorado residents ages 15-44, it’s the 4th leading cause of death for residents ages 45-54, and it’s the 7th leading cause for ages 55-64. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of overall, and in 2017 Colorado lost over 1,100 residents to suicide.
Since 2012, four pieces of suicide prevention legislation have been passed. Each bill focuses on one part of the incredibly complex world of suicide. So far, sufficient financial resources have been mostly absent in allowing programs that work to fully establish themselves across the state. Last year, SB 272 was passed, which put in place funding for schools to train teachers and staff on the topic of suicide prevention. However the amount of money allocated to that bill resulted in the funding of only 17 schools. Susan Marine, Ph.D., Chair of Advocacy for Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado says that attendees at today’s event will be asking legislators to vote for pieces of legislation related to suicide prevention in Colorado.
“There are several bills that have been introduced, and the four organizations that I have mentioned have agreed that we will be asking the registrants from our conference tomorrow to lobby their legislators on behalf of two bills and one item that would be introduced into the state budget.”
The first of these bills is SB 19-010, which is sponsored by Sen. Fields, Rep. McLachlan, and Rep. D. Valdez. The bill would allow grant funds to be used for school behavioral health care services, including screenings, therapy, counseling, referrals to community organizations, and training for students and staff. Recipients of this grant would be allowed to use the funds to contract with a community partner for behavioral health care services. This includes hiring private health care professionals, screening, training, and preventive supports, as well as to provide direct services or consultation by a school health professional through telehealth technology. The bill’s fiscal note offers 4 financial options, the 4th being the one currently favored, it also grants the largest amount of money and funds 22 more grants.
The second bill is HB 19-1129, which is sponsored by Sen. Fenberg. The bill prohibits a licensed psychiatrist and/or mental health provider from engaging in conversion therapy with any patient under 18 years of age. Sexual orientation change therapy, otherwise known as conversion therapy, is an effort to change an individual’s sexual orientation, which includes the effort to change gender expression and behaviors, as well as to eliminate sexual or romantic attraction towards individuals of the same sex.
Conversion therapy is based on the belief that homosexuality is an illness that needs to be cured. This belief has been rejected as scientifically inaccurate by the American Psychiatric Association, along with all other major mental health organizations. Conversion therapy has in no way been proven to change an individual’s gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation. It can, however, lead to substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression, withdrawal from the social sphere, and increased risk of suicide and suicidal actions.
“This is the 5th year this bill has been introduced. 15 other states have passed similar legislation. So we’re hopeful that this year this bill will pass. It is true there are some groups that are opposing this legislation, but I think this is the year we need to pass this bill. Some people say that it interferes with parental rights, that parents should be able to direct what kind of care and treatment their children recieve. And the other objection is that it’s unconstitutional because we’re limiting the free speech of these psychiatrists and mental health professionals, but the American Psychiatric Association and really all m of the key mental health advocacy organizations have declared that this (the current state without the bill in effect) is ineffective and damaging. The bill would also make advertising or practice of conversion therapy considered a deceptive trade practice under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.”
For people who can’t attend the first suicide prevention day at the Colorado state legislature, the Colorado General Assembly website provides a wealth of information such as the status of bills, who your legislator is, and who makes up various committees. There will also be a livestream conference on Tuesday, Feb 26th, on the Mental Health Colorado website.