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Suicide prevention and awareness bill signed into law in Colorado

Suicide crisis hotlines will be added to the back of college student ID cards as part of a new bill passed in Colorado. (Courtesy graphic)
Bill requires crisis suicide crisis contact information to be put on the back of student ID cards

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the Higher Education Crisis and Suicide Prevention bill into law March 17.

HB 23-1007 requires schools of higher education to print the Colorado and National Crisis and Suicide Prevention contact information on the back of student identification cards.

The national number is 988, and the state number is (844) 493-8255. Also people can text the word “talk” to 38255.

In Southwest Colorado, people in mental health crisis can also call the Axis care line at 970-247-5245.

The bipartisan bill received 97% approval from all state legislators. It applies to private and public postsecondary schools including vocational schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities.

Marc Catlin, Republican for House District 58 carried the bill. In an interview with The Journal, he said high suicide rates in the state were a common topic during his last campaign.

“It did not matter what town I was visiting, people were saying they were losing their kids to suicide,” Catlin said.

The prime sponsors in the Colorado House of Representatives were Catlin and Judy Amabile, Democrat for House District 49. The prime sponsor in the Colorado Senate were Dylan Roberts, Democrat for Senate District 8, and Byron Pelton, Republican for Senate District 1.

According to the bill, young adulthood – commonly considered to be ages 19 to 24 – is a time of often stressful transitions during which some major mental health conditions first emerge.

Marc Catlin

“Young adults with untreated or undiagnosed behavioral health problems often face academic and personal problems and sometimes drop out of school,” the bill states. “This age group also has a significantly higher rate of suicide compared to youth ages 10 to 18.”

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, between 2003 and 2017 there were 1,290 suicides among young adults ages 19 to 24 and 696 suicides among youths ages 10 to 18.

“I am concerned at the increase of suicides in our teenagers and young adults, especially on the Western Slope,” stated Catlin in a news release. “By printing the suicide hotline numbers on student ID cards, we are giving young Coloradans an invitation to ask for help. All across Colorado, suicide and mental health are on the minds of our residents. This law will elevate awareness of the help that is available to our students.”

A bill last year required high schools to print the suicide contact information on the back of student identification cards, and HB 23-1007 is an extension of that initiative to serve college students, he said.

“It is an invitation to young people to call if they are worried about themselves or a friend or family members,” Catlin said. “Not everyone wants to walk into a clinic, but they would make a phone call to get help.”

Catlin represents the eight counties of Dolores, Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel.

The new law does not require additional state funding to implement. The costs of the extra printing onto the cards will be absorbed by the schools.

The bill calls for improved access to mental health care on university and college campuses.

According to a 2022 policy paper for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention only half of enrolled students said they knew were to find mental health services.

“Postsecondary institutions should make students more aware of suicide prevention resources and services,” the bill states.

All public and private postsecondary schools must include the suicide prevention contact info starting Aug. 1.

For current students still using identification cards without the information required by this law, the school must provide the information to them at the beginning of each semester or trimester.

If a school does not use identification cards, the school must distribute the suicide crisis contact information to all students at the beginning of each school semester or trimester.

Suicide prevention training

Suicides continue to rise in Colorado. There were 1,370 suicides in 2021, up from 1,175 in 2017 and 910 in 2011, according to CDPHE data.

In Montezuma County, there were 11 suicides in 2022, up from 8 in 2021 and 10 in 2020. In La Plata County there were 12 suicides in 2021, 13 in 2020 and 11 in 2019.

The Montezuma County Health Department and Suicide Awareness for Everyone are hosting free suicide prevention gatekeeper training in Mancos, Cortez and Dolores.

The Question Persuade Refer initiative offers instruction on how to talk to someone who is thinking about suicide and refer them to resources.

The upcoming trainings are:

  • Mancos Library: March 11, July 11, and Oct. 10; from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Montezuma County Annex, Cortez: May 10, Aug. 8, and Nov. 11; 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Dolores Library: June 13 and Sept. 12; 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Space is limited to 15 people per training. For more information or to sign up, email hhyde@co.montezuma.co.us or visit the Montezuma County Health Department Facebook Page and scan the QR code with your phone.