“There was a desire on both sides to do everything we could to protect health care spending in Colorado. But when you’re looking at across-the-board cuts, everything has to be on the table.”Colorado Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts, “Pandemic And Budget Cuts Might Trap Colorado Health Programs In A Vicious Cycle”
I strongly and wholeheartedly object that every Colorado program, including mental health programs, should have been “on the table” when evaluating state budget cuts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health, unequivocally, should have never been considered a budget item to be cut. In fact, funding should have increased for Colorado’s vital mental health programs. After experiencing some of the worst tragedies in the country, such as the Columbine school shooting and Aurora movie theater shooting, and rising opioid abuse, all in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado should be leading the country with mental health initiatives and funding.
During the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in June, mostly through executive order, Colorado’s elected officials cut a quarter of their discretionary funding, totaling roughly $3.3 billion. Mental health and many other health benefits were severely affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every Coloradan, whether directly with the virus or indirectly through the shut-downs. I have listened to many Coloradans living in Senate District 17 and they all tell me how this pandemic has made them feel anxious, alone, helpless, and, in many cases, depressed. My family and I have certainly struggled to navigate this incredibly overwhelming and confusing time alongside our five young children.
An example of how dire mental health issues are becoming nationally due to COVID-19 and the unhealthy politicizing of this pandemic, Zoloft, a widely-prescribed antidepressant, has been placed on the federal drug shortage list by the FDA because of the spike in Americans (over one third!) in reporting feeling anxious and/or depressed between April and June. I know this is affecting Coloradans as well.
These mental health program budgetary cuts are especially disgraceful when you consider Colorado’s disgraceful history of inadequate mental health funding.
Colorado’s mental health funding ranked 27th in the nation per capita in 2017. While this is a slight improvement from being 31st in the nation, as reported in 2010, it is simply still not enough funding to support the many Coloradans who are in desperate need of mental health resources. These COVID-19 mental health program cuts threaten to derail the slight progress that has been made in an already dire mental health funding situation. This is unacceptable.
Colorado’s lackluster funding, I believe, directly translates to our state’s deeply worrying mental health statistics.
Colorado ranks 7th in the nation for suicide rates. In 2019, close to 21 out of 100,000 Coloradans committed suicide, up from 17.2 out of 100,000 Coloradans committing suicide in 2012.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Colorado ranks 3rd in the nation for residents living with some sort of mental illness, with 19.55% of Coloradans fitting these criteria.
If I was serving as a State Senator for District 17 during the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have done three things, without question, to strengthen mental health funding:
1. I would have stated loud and clear: mental health programs will absolutely not be “on the table” to be cut during a time when mental health services are so essential to every Coloradan affected by the effects of this pandemic.
2. I would have asked for a detailed explanation from Governor Jared Polis and his administration’s health and human services department as to how they arrived at these budgetary cuts. I fail to understand why they did not provide comments to the Colorado Sun when asked about this.
3. I would have moved to direct funding away from RTD’s FasTracks Program toward mental health programs and resources. In 2004, Boulder County voted for an initiative to fund a rail line from Boulder to Longmont to Denver, which is apart of the FasTracks Program. After more than 10 years of waiting, RTD has still failed to deliver on its mandated promise. Governor Polis, during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, instructed RTD to build this rail line, despite deep public transportation budgetary cuts and opposition from RTD officials.
Governor Polis needs to get his priorities straight during one of the most critical times our state and nation have faced. It is clear to me that Governor Polis is more focused on RTD and this rail line that seems like an ever-more-distant reality than the Coloradans who need mental health resources now. While I believe that this rail line should have been built yesterday, we are not living through a normal time. Put simply, mental health is a far bigger priority than a rail line in Boulder County at this time, especially since many Coloradans are staying home.
Lastly, mental health funding is an issue that I am emotional and passionate about, as two of my family members are no longer alive due to their life-long struggles with mental health. If elected as your next District 17 State Senator, I would ensure that our mental health programs are adequately funded, with the aim of increasing Colorado’s mental health per capita spending so we rank at least 20th in the nation.
What do you think about the state’s mental health program budget cuts? How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there any way I can help you? Feel free to share your thoughts and/or questions below