Colorado Governor Seeks To Expand State’s Mental Health Services

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

Following the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT, the national conversation has been focused on addressing the shortcomings in the U.S.’s current policies on gun regulation and mental health services. In this country, it’s harder to access mental health treatment than it is to get your hands on a gun, partly thanks to widespread budget cuts to state mental health services during the Great Recession.

But some legislators are hoping to change that. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is asking state legislators to dedicate $18.5 million toward expanding mental health services — a move spurred by this summer’s mass shooting in an Aurora, CO movie theater, but an especially timely initiative in light of the recent tragedy in Newtown:

The governor’s office said Monday that the services Hickenlooper and state health officials are proposing are aimed at redesigning and strengthening Colorado’s system for taking care of the mentally ill, an issue that has received more attention in the wake of the July’s shootings. […]

The plan from Hickenlooper and state health officials includes opening five 24-hour walk-in centers for mental health care in Colorado and establishing a statewide mental health crisis hotline. Those two initiatives alone are estimated to cost $10.2 million.

State officials planned to discuss the initiatives Tuesday morning, where the Democratic governor will be joined by state Human Services Executive Director Reggie Bicha and members of Colorado’s mental health and public safety communities.

Hickenlooper’s initiative also calls for additional coordination between state departments to make sure that electronic mental health records get included in background checks for gun buyers. Aside from his desire to better address mental health discrepancies in Colorado, the governor also supports strengthened gun control laws, although he hasn’t proposed specific legislation.

Not every state official is taking similar steps to expand their residents’ access to mental health services, however. Just yesterday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed a state budget that includes cuts to mental health programs.