A Report from the League of Women Voters of Colorado


  • The components of Colorado’s public behavioral health system – structure and services including those within the prison system
  • How behavioral health care is financed
  • Substance use disorder and its relationship to mental illness
  • Children’s mental health
  • Recovery and barriers to recovery
  • Gun violence and behavioral health
  • Behavioral health policy
  • Promising practices

Key points

  • Mental Illness is a brain disorder.
  • “The mentally ill” is a stigmatizing cliché; the term “persons in recovery” is preferred.
  • Although 50% of lifelong mental illnesses are present by age 14, Colorado has no comprehensive reporting about the behavioral health of, or services for, Colorado’s children.
  • Recovery – an individualized, multifaceted process – is integral within today’s treatment, and includes crisis plans and advanced directives (instructions for best treatment in emergency rooms or by police when one’s chronic brain disorder manifests as a serious crisis or episode).
  • Paying for care introduces confusing silos of funding with long and often confusing applications and qualifications.
  • Colorado’s prison system is the largest in-patient provider of behavioral health services in the state; 35.5% of prisoners have a mental health diagnosis; 72% are severe substance abusers; 27% are dually diagnosed. Inmates with severe mental illness will no longer be placed in solitary confinement.
  • Colorado is 48th in the nation in per capita funding for behavioral health services.
  • Colorado is 52nd in the nation in the number of behavioral health beds available.
  • People with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others than the general population.
  • The combination of alcohol use and gun ownership significantly increases the occurrence of violence, especially suicide.


The report describes a significant number of promising practices and makes recommendations for change and action in the areas of access to care, behavioral health crisis centers, child and adolescent behavioral health, civil commitment and behavioral health beds, school curricula, and re-entry to community after commitment or incarceration.


The task force discoveries and recommendations about our state’s behavioral health policy and practice were presented to the League of Women Voters of Colorado Board of Directors in spring of 2014. Colorado Leagues of Women Voters represented on the task force include Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Estes Park, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, Montezuma, Montrose/Delta, and Pueblo.