DENVER (KDVR) — State lawmakers recently introduced a plan to help screen teens for mental health issues, and it would happen at school.
Recently introduced House Bill 1003 would provide mental health evaluations for students in grades 6-12. Supporters of the bill said the goal is to give more kids access to free therapy, but it also prompts concerns about resource availability and parental control.
Former Denver Public Schools student Amelia Federico said the bill would help keep mental health top of mind.
“I’m excited for what this bill could potentially mean for students,” Federico said. “Mental health is something very important to me.”
Grades 6-12 would have mental health assessment
If passed, the bill would allow public schools serving students grades 6-12 to participate in a mental health assessment program administered by the Department of Public Health and Environment.
“You have an opportunity to talk to someone face-to-face, maybe ask some questions, things you don’t really have with an online interface,” Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet said.
She said it’s an extension of the state’s I Matter program, passed back in 2021 to provide free therapy sessions for kids.
“Not every kid has access to getting online or is comfortable getting online, so this is an opportunity for us to be able to bring the program to them,” Michaelson Jenet said.
According to the most recent data released by the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey, 39.6% of young people experienced feelings of depression in the past year. That’s an increase from 34.7% in 2019 and 31.4% in 2017.
“We know getting into therapy can help with depression and anxiety and can help our kids be better students, because they have the opportunity to get the kind of support they need,” Michaelson Jenet said.
The proposed program would be voluntary, allowing parents to opt out. But under Colorado state law, kids 12 and up may consent to participate.
Mental health professionals short-staffed
Sheryl Ziegler, a licensed clinical psychologist, said the evaluations could add pressure for follow-up treatment.
“I’m very curious how we are going to meet that demand, because right now, we are already short-staffed as it is,” Ziegler said. “We have a huge, huge crisis on our hands, but we also have solutions that we can implement. If we can figure out the funding and the implementation and continue to work on stigma, I think we can work to where we need to.”
Despite the concerns, just having the conversation may be helpful.
“Really, stepping into school and knowing, ‘Oh, my mental health is on their radar,’ I feel seen. I feel validated by that. I think that bill would continue this, and that is something that really excites me,” Federico, the Denver student, said.
Lawmakers are still working on finalizing the language of the bill before the first vote on Feb. 7.
Michaelson Jenet said they’re also working to extend indefinitely the I Matter program, which currently ends in 2024.