I was nine years old when I started having suicidal thoughts. However, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I was able to get professional help.
Mental health is an issue I struggled with for a long time, and when things got really tough for me – when I felt hopeless and had nowhere to go – I thought about suicide.
It was 2:30 a.m. 17 years ago, I was unable to overcome my own thoughts and feelings of depression. I couldn’t get up. I was at war with myself and wanted to give up. I jumped into my car, phone in hand, looking for a way out. Before starting the car, I tried to call my therapist, and by the grace of God, she picked up.
That phone call saved my life. I’m here today because someone picked up the phone when I needed it most; giving me a second chance at life and a profound opportunity to serve in our government to help people like me. This time in my life is why I chose to champion the legislation to create the 9-8-8 Helpline in Colorado so that anyone facing a mental health crisis has someone to to call.
Last year, the governor signed into law our bill — making 9-8-8 the designated number you can call when you, or someone you know, is contemplating suicide. The person on the other end of the line can help you get immediate help and then connect you with the resources you need to meet your long-term mental health needs. As of July 16, Coloradans in crisis contemplating suicide can 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 issues, I know how difficult it can be to seek treatment and get the care you need, especially when you are in crisis. I was lucky because I was able to get some help, but too many coloradans can’t say the same.
Establishing 9-8-8 as an official suicide prevention lifeline for Coloradans is an important step forward in addressing the ongoing mental health crisis, but more needs to be done. The behavioral health crisis has grown exponentially over the past few years, and our state has simply not kept pace with the growing need for services. In fact, youth suicide has increased 51% over the past decade – a reality we simply cannot and will not accept in Colorado.
That’s why Colorado lawmakers seized a unique opportunity this year to invest $450 million in federal pandemic relief funds to kick-start the transformation of our behavioral health system to better meet the needs of Coloradans. , especially our children.
For most of my life, I have dealt with the challenges that come with battling a mental health issue, including difficulty navigating our complex and convoluted behavioral health system. I often considered giving up trying. I know how difficult this is for so many people in our state.
I have two young girls who inspire me every day to continue this fight – I don’t want them to grow up in a state that can’t meet their needs. We must do everything we can to prepare all Colorado children for future success.
I was lucky to come to a time in my life where I had a chance. With the 9-8-8 law going into effect this month and the many successful initiatives passed by Colorado lawmakers this year, we are well on our way to giving more children another chance and adults like me.
A new day is coming for those experiencing suicidal crises: a day that makes it easier for them to get help and not suffer alone. If you or someone you know is in a suicidal crisis – starting July 16 – you can dial 9-8-8 for help. This new three-digit phone number will literally save lives.
– Chris Kolker is a Colorado State Senator from Centennial.