Our Broken (Mental) Health System

I can imagine the appropriations process at the state capitol can probably be likened to a food line at the homeless shelter – long lines and rarely enough food. Philanthropy and the golden rule are put on hold, while interest groups clamor at the gate hollering for more. Folks, only the strongest will survive this game.

Of course, it would only make sense, then, for those who are most vulnerable and most in need to be the worst at playing this game. Those who need the most – often our children and the mentally ill – end up at the end of the line and empty handed.

Mental Health

Admittedly, our health system in this country has seen better days. Candidates and politicians alike are striking chords with voters over the issue of health care. But, our culture tends to treat health from the neck down failing to consider mental health. Why is that? I would not presume to know. But, I guess it's easier to solve problems that we can see – like broken bones and gun shot wounds. Should we simply wait around for the mental health x-ray? I hope not. Mental health care should also matter.


Following the Iraq war, PTSD is wildly prevalent among our soldiers. Many have a long and arduous process following a tour – or 3 – of duty. They face nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, marital and family problems, and the list could continue. A short news search on PTSD produces a bevy of hits citing hundreds of experts and congressional leaders advocating for better veteran mental health care.
Let's support our troops entirely – not just with guns, but also counseling.


Our state veterans are not alone. Mississippi residents following Hurricane Katrina are also enduring one of the largest mental health crises. WLOX-TV and The Sun Herald led with stories this past week on a recent mental health summit illustrating the looming catastrophe. With nearly 50% of south Mississippi children reporting moderate levels of distress and 70% of south Mississippians stating that they would benefit from counseling, I would think that cutbacks in our state mental health programs are shortsighted at best and immoral at worst.


The state has repeatedly failed to act on behalf of our children's mental health as well. According to an NPR report, the magnolia state has not met federal – or even state – standards on foster care for over ten years. The difficulty has led to a landmark lawsuit by Children's Rights and increased attention from the national media.

But, those are paltry details to the awful state report indicating that some 84% of children failed to receive a medical exam once in foster placement, 12% were moved 10 or more times, and 20% spend half their lives in state custody. More shocking, the national standard is 12 to 15 children per state caseworker. Some Mississippi counties had 120 children per caseworker!
And, we wonder why our teens are more likely to drop out of school, get pregnant, eat unhealthy, and become drug addicted. There is your answer folks.

Not all Gloom and Doom

National statistics say that most of us will endure a bout of depression or anxiety at some time during our life. Twenty percent of Mississippians will even meet criteria for a mental disorder – that's one in five. So, we are not talking about a select few. We are talking about our neighbors and friends.

Because of increased action by news agencies, activists, and, ahem, columnists, Governor Barbour fully funded 7 of our mental health centers. Bravo!
But, this is the first time since the facilities were built! That leaves 8 more without full funding – that means the mentally ill go to prisons or are left to their own devices on the streets.

At the end of the day, I know that every agency still needs more money. It's a fact of life here in the poorest of the poor states.

But, even in our poverty, we cannot forget those who silently battle depression, drug addiction, and post traumatic stress. We cannot forget children who endure pervading family stress. These diseases may not show up on lab tests, but they are an omnipresent stain on our society.

Let's join hands and fight for those who have no one to speak for them – let's fully fund our mental health and human services agencies.

Previous Comments


Bravo, John! You're bringing up stuff that I've been screaming for years. Keep your eyes peeled, because when I start my next NAMI fundraiser, I want you to be at the next walk with us in October. :-)


thanks! post on my blog when you would like certain mental health issues focused and pass around my link to other NAMI / Mental Health folks thanks john

John Sawyer

I've started the NAMI fundraiser. Check it out.



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