Apr 16, 2021 | NEWS | By Bella Staal | Photo by Bibi Powers

The Colorado State legislature is currently working on a bill that would give Colorado children ages 18 and below access to a free mental health screening and three free mental health sessions.

The bill was introduced in response to the growing concerns about the mental health of children during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically altered children’s social and academic lives.

The summary of House Bill 1258 states that the bill “establishes a temporary youth mental health services program in the Office of Behavioral Health within the Department of Human Services to facilitate access to mental health services for youth to respond to identified mental health needs, including those needs that may have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The program is intended to start no later than May 31 of this year and end on June 30 of next year. Like many interactions during the pandemic, the mental health screening and sessions will be held in an online format. In addition to serving minors, the program will be available to those between the ages of 18 and 21 who are receiving special education services.

The introduction of the bill points to the increasing attention that is being paid to the mental health issues growing out of and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting lifestyle changes.

According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from Nov. 13, 2020, the rate of children aged 18 and under who visited the emergency room for mental-health-related issues increased significantly from April to October of 2020 compared to 2019.

For children aged 5-11 the number increased by 24% and for those aged 12-17 it increased by 31%. The bill notes that in 2018, Colorado had the seventh highest suicide rate in the country, and suicide remains the leading cause of death for youth in the state.

As many communities grapple with both the short and long-term effects that the pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on mental health, this new bill could be an important step forward.

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