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March 17, 2023

House Advances Bill to Offer Youth Mental Health Screenings

DENVER, CO - The House today advanced legislation to allow school districts to offer mental health screenings in schools to help determine the mental well-being of students and continue the successful I Matter program.

“A recent study found that there has been a 103% increase in Colorado youth visiting Children’s Hospital Colorado due to behavioral health issues,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “We’ve connected over 5,000 Colorado kids with free therapy sessions since the implementation of our I Matter program in the fall of 2022. This year’s bill aims to identify more adolescents who need this resource to prevent youth mental health issues from escalating to the point of seeking medical help.”

HB23-1003 would permit public schools to participate in a voluntary mental health screening program for sixth through twelfth graders. The school would be required to notify parents of the date and time that the mental health screening is scheduled, the purpose, and information about the mental health screener. Parents would have the option to opt their child out of participating, although students over 12 years old could still decide themselves to participate, due to existing Colorado law.

The screening would be conducted via a questionnaire and evaluated by a licensed screener. If a student is at-risk for attempting suicide, physical self-harm, harming others, or is in crisis, the licensed screener would immediately notify the parents as well as the school and the school would react according to school crisis response policy. If the licensed screener finds the student in need of further help, they will contact the parent about additional treatment options, including information or a referral to the I Matter program. 

The I Matter Program was created with the passage of HB21-1258, sponsored by Rep. Michaelson Jenet, and expanded by HB22-1243. The program received $15 million dollars in funding from the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions to provide a mental health screening followed by six free therapy sessions to youth across the state and is available virtually and in person. Students use a screening tool through the program’s website to match them with licensed mental health professionals that best fit their needs, including bilingual services. If the student needs additional services or shows signs of needing immediate help, their assigned care navigator connects them to long-term mental health care providers or crisis support, including Colorado Crisis Services.

Since the program started in October 2021, over 5,500 Colorado kids have utilized the free therapy services, with almost 44% attending at least four sessions. The participating 5,655 students come from 59 of the 64 counties across Colorado.

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