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9-8-8: A new resource for mental health

By Senator Chris Kolker

Imagine being a prisoner of your own suicidal thoughts, thoughts that consume you. As we celebrate the independence of our great nation, we have cause to celebrate another proclamation of independence. It isn’t independence from tyranny, but independence from those thoughts in the form of a suicide prevention lifeline. Independence in accessing immediate critical support in a phone call to one easy phone number to remember, 9-8-8. This independence day will begin July 16th.

I was nine years old when I started having suicidal thoughts. However, it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s when I was able to get professional help. Mental health is something I had struggled with for a long time, and when things got really difficult for me – when I was feeling hopeless and like I had nowhere to turn – I considered suicide.

It was 2:30 in the morning 17 years ago, I was so overcome with thoughts and feelings of depression that I couldn't pick myself back up. I was at war with myself and wanted to give up. I jumped in my car, phone in hand, searching for a way out. Before I started the car, for some reason, I decided to call my therapist, and by the grace of God, she picked up.

That phone call saved my life. I am here today because someone picked up the phone when I needed them most; giving me a second chance at life and a profound opportunity to serve in our government to help people just like me. That moment in my life is why I chose to champion legislation to create the 9-8-8 hotline in Colorado, so that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis has someone to call.

Last year, the Governor signed our bill into law – making 9-8-8 the designated number you can call when you, or someone you know is considering suicide. The person on the other end of the line will get you immediate help and then connect you with resources you need to support your long term mental health needs. Starting on July 16, Coloradans in crisis considering suicide will be able to dial 9-8-8 to be connected to intervention and crisis services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

As someone who has experienced mental health challenges, I know how difficult it can be to seek out treatment and get the care you need, especially when you’re in crisis. I was lucky because I was able to get help, but too many Coloradans can’t say the same.

Establishing 9-8-8 as the official suicide prevention lifeline for Coloradans is an important step forward in tackling the ongoing mental health crisis, but more must be done. The behavioral health crisis has worsened exponentially over the last several years, and our state has simply not kept pace with the growing need for services. In fact, youth suicide has increased fifty-one percent over the last decade – a reality we simply cannot and will not accept in Colorado.

That’s why we took a once-in-a lifetime opportunity this year to invest $450 million in federal pandemic relief funds to jumpstart the transformation of our behavioral health system to better meet the needs of Coloradans – especially our kids.

For the majority of my life, I have dealt with the challenges that come along with battling a mental health condition, including struggling to navigate our complex and convoluted behavioral health system. I have often contemplated giving up on trying. I know how hard this is for so many people in our state.

I have two young daughters who inspire me everyday to continue this fight – I don't want them to grow up in a state that can’t meet their needs. We need to do everything we can to set all of Colorado’s children up for future success.

I was fortunate to make it to a time in my life where I was given a chance. With the 9-8-8 law going into effect this month, along with the many initiatives Colorado Democrats successfully passed in the legislature this year, we are well on our way to giving more kids and adults just like me another chance.

A new independence day is coming for those experiencing suicidal crisis. A day that makes it easier for us to get help, a freedom, actually, to not suffer alone. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis – starting July 16th – you can dial 9-8-8 to get help. This new three-digit phone number will literally save lives.

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