Bills aiming to improve access to behavioral health services for agriculture workers and rural Coloradans gain support in Senate


Shane Ersland


A couple of bills that aim to improve access to behavioral health services for Colorado’s agricultural workers and rural residents have garnered support in the Senate.

Senate Bill 24-055 and SB 24-057 were approved during a Senate Committee on Health and Human Services meeting on Wednesday. Sen. Perry Will (R-Aspen) sponsors SB 24-055, which would create an agricultural and rural community behavioral health liaison position in the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) to coordinate with the Department of Agriculture, behavioral healthcare providers, rural community leaders, agricultural communities, and nonprofits that serve them.

“One of the most pervasive issues within the agricultural industry and the rural communities I represent is increased behavioral health issues coupled with a lack of adequate behavioral health providers and programs for those in need,” Will said.

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According to the National Rural Health Association, farmers and ranchers have a rate of suicide that is three-and-a-half times that of the general population, Will said. 

“Farmers and ranchers lack the support they need to address suicide idolation, substance abuse, stress management, and most mental health issues,” he said. “Approximately one-fifth of the population in rural areas suffer from mental health issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.” 

SB 24-055 is also sponsored by Sen. Janice Marchman (D-Loveland), who noted that the bill would create an agricultural behavioral health community of practice workgroup. The seven-member workgroup would work to convene a group of leaders and experts in agricultural and behavioral healthcare to improve access to care for those involved in agriculture.  

“They’re going to do statewide community outreach and educate communities about issues farmers, ranchers, agriculture workers, and rural communities face. They’re going to establish relationships and try to understand the root causes of what’s going on. The program will coordinate training for providers serving farmers and ranchers. The workgroup is going to compile best practices, (identify) gaps, (and recommend) ways to engage further. The ultimate goal is to foster collaboration with other people who are doing the same work.”

— Marchman

Sara Mayer, membership coordinator at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, spoke in support of SB 24-055. 

“As you consider this bill, it is imperative to recognize the urgent need for a comprehensive support system for farmers facing mental health challenges,” Mayer said. “By addressing the root cause of agricultural stress and promoting policies that foster resilience and empowerment, we can work towards a future where farmers are not merely surviving but thriving.”

Meghan Shelton, intergovernmental and community engagement director at the BHA, also voiced her support for the bill.

“SB 24-055 recognizes that Colorado’s rural communities and, specifically, our agricultural communities, have unique needs. And we need to ensure that BHA has staff and programming in place that is responsive to addressing those needs. SB 24-055 enables BHA to address the unique needs of these communities by identifying staff to engage in statewide community outreach to educate communities on behavioral health issues farmers, ranchers, other agricultural industry workers, and rural communities experience.”

— Shelton

Sen. Tom Sullivan (D-Centennial) sponsors SB 24-057, which would create an agricultural workforce mental health and suicide prevention program in the Department of Agriculture. 

“The purpose of the program is to address the challenges facing agricultural workers, and to provide agricultural workers (with) mental health support, suicide prevention services, and crisis management services,” Sullivan said. “This bill will also focus on education about mental health in rural areas, and promotion of local resources available. During the last two decades, there’s been a higher rate of suicide in rural communities than urban areas, and it’s getting worse.”

The bills await further votes in the Senate.

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