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Colorado is expanding mental health support for teachers, students ahead of uncertain school year

Legislation providing free services
child and doctor
Posted at 8:26 AM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 10:26:41-04

As another uncertain school year gets underway in Colorado, mental health for teachers and students is a top concern. Two bills that passed in the 2021 Legislature will provide more support for both.

The Supporting Our Educator Workforce Act will create new programs to recruit and retain teachers, with financial incentives like student loan forgiveness, and more support for their mental well-being. A second bill, Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth, will provide a mental health assessment and three free treatment sessions for all Colorado youth.

Amy Lopez, a professor of psychiatry at the CU School of Medicine, said after last year, a large number of teachers were considering leaving the profession.

“We opened up a call line through the department of psychiatry to try and help them out and a big number — probably at least half of the calls we took — were educators saying, 'I don't think I can continue,'” Lopez said.

Ahead of another challenging school year, the CU School of Medicine worked with the Colorado Education Association (CEA) to figure out how to expand support for teachers.

“All districts have access to the employee assistance program, where they can get mental health services, but what we were hearing from CEA was a lot of those places were booked out because there was so much need,” Lopez said.

This year, Colorado teachers will have access to more services, including a hotline that will be manned seven days a week, one-on-one counseling, and a website with modules on dealing with stress, depression and anxiety. All of these services are free for any educator in the state.

Colorado is also working to provide more mental health support for students. Vincent Atchity, the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, said the state is currently recruiting providers to offer the free treatment sessions provided by HB21-1258.

“Our expectation is that with three sessions, this is not going to address serious ongoing mental health conditions, but it will be enough to determine those who really do needs ongoing support,” Atchity said.

He expects these services could be available to students by late September or October.

Mental Health Colorado is also working with a legislative task force to determine how to spend one-time federal dollars for mental health services. Atchity said Colorado has a need for more inpatient treatment for youth, and inpatient substance abuse treatment.