Industry leaders recap mental health bills from last session

Four mental health experts joined us at our 2021 Utah State of Reform Health Policy Conference to discuss mental health and progress on substance abuse legislation in Utah.


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The Utah Legislature passed significant mental and behavioral health legislation in the previous session to attempt to curtail high suicide rates and overdose deaths. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Utah has the sixth highest suicide rate in the country and is around the national average for overdose deaths. 

Rep. Mike Winder, member of the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee said:

“We have been thrilled to see Utah’s youth suicide rates plateau and even slightly decline in the last three years, but we’re not satisfied. We are chipping away and remain focused on that topic.”

The panelists discussed the small workforce in the mental and behavioral health field. Laura Grossman, director of Account Management & Account Services at Beacon Health Options, highlighted the importance of professionals working at the top of their license, and the need to embrace technology for the future. 

According to Winder, this session saw many mental health related bills pass through the legislature addressing this issue in Utah. Winder highlighted three of these bills in his remarks. 

House Bill 248 requires the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health at Utah Department of Human Services (UDHH) to create a grant program to provide first responders with increased access to mental health resources. 

Senate Bill 53 creates the position of behavioral health emergency services technicians as a replacement for other first responders who are not trained to handle a behavioral health emergency. 

According to Winder the goal of this bill is to provide a more trained response for a behavioral health emergency.

“When someone calls 911, having a firetruck show up for mental health needs isn’t the best we can do. Here, we can send out mental health professionals when people are on the edge.”

House Bill 81, sponsored by Winder, adds mental or behavioral health issues to the list of acceptable reasons for a school absence. As of now, mental illness is not a valid excuse for missing class. However, according to Winder, our mental health should be treated the same as we would treat a physical illness. 

“We want to end the stigma here. We don’t want to have a student lie about why they aren’t attending school. It’s okay to acknowledge and treat our mental and behavioral health.”

In the future, Winder plans to highlight the LGBTQ+ community’s suicide rates. 

“We are trying to set a tone amongst the legislature that they belong. It is less a piece of legislation and more about the tone of leadership and what we say and do as elected officials.”