Community Stakeholders Ask Lawmakers to Address Mental Health Needs

Community stakeholders sent a letter to lawmakers on the http://www.legislature.ms.gov/Documents/House%20Working%20Groups.pdf">Health Budget Review Committee asking them to take several steps in working to reform the state's http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2016/aug/31/mississippis-mental-health-conundrum/">mental healthcare system and focus more community-based mental healthcare.

The letter is reproduced in full below:

Dear Members of the Legislative Mental Health Tax and Budget Review Committee:

We, the undersigned stakeholders, appreciate the concern you have shown by your close examination of the state's mental health budget. But we fear that you and the legislature are ignoring a much more fundamental and dire issue, and what is actually the real problem: Our State's mental health system is antiquated and costly, both in dollars but even more in human lives.

Because our system overly relies on expensive institutional care in state hospitals and other long term care facilities, Mississippi has not developed to scale the types of services in the community that we know will most help people. As a result, many people are torn away from their families and communities. That is unfair to them and violates their basic civil rights. It also deprives us of benefiting from their presence and their contributions. And perhaps most importantly in your examination of the mental health budget, this over reliance on institutional care is why Mississippi is being sued by the Justice Department. In fact, the DOJ has actively promoted community-based services as a means of preventing the needless isolated institutionalization of people with mental illness.

With early and effective intervention, almost all adults and children with mental illnesses can and want to be part of their families, meaningfully contribute to their communities, and work and/or go to school, outside of institutions. It is alarming to us that your budget discussions have started with the assumption that mental health care is best delivered through institutions. That assumption is not true. It is also harmful. You as legislators are in a unique position to transform our mental health system and bring it into the 21st century.

These are some steps that we strongly urge you to take:

  • Meet directly with your constituents with mental illness and their families and ask them about their experiences with the mental health system and what would help them live productive lives. We encourage you to hold public hearings throughout the state.

  • Visit the Community Mental Health Centers and mental health nonprofits in your district and find out what support they need to deliver these kinds of services. Find out how effectively the money you appropriated is being spent and what support mental health centers need to maximize the impact of the funds.

  • Reach out to your counterparts in other states that have transitioned to an effective community-based system to learn how they did it. New Hampshire, Delaware and Georgia are recent examples.

  • Partner with the consumer and family organizations that represent people with mental illness. They can and are willing to provide you data, help you gather feedback and assist with technical research.

  • Talk to people who currently provide direct patient care in institutions and ask them how their skills and talents could be used to help people meaningfully learn to live in the community.

  • Ask Attorney General Hood to provide you with the Technical Assistance Collaborative's reports that outline a blueprint for system reform based on expert recommendations.

We urge the legislature as a whole to develop a pathway that ensures consideration of community based treatment and ensure that the pathway has the support of other systems that touch the lives of people with mental illness as well as law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, defense counsel, and the substance abuse and mental health systems.

While we know that all of you have compassion in your hearts, we ask that you also have courage and bold vision in your actions. Do what it takes to lead our state and reform our mental health system. Mississippi citizens affected by mental illness deserve no less.

We stand united and ready to assist you in any way we can.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director ACLU of Mississippi

Oleta Fitzgerald, Executive Director Children's Defense Fund's Southern Regional Office

Scott Crawford, PhD Retired Clinical Psychologist, Disability Rights Advocate

Ann Maclaine, Executive Director Disability Rights Mississippi

Joy Hogge, Executive Director Families as Allies

Lynn McNair, Former Director Mental Health Association of the Capital Area

Tiffany Graves, Executive Director Mississippi Access to Justice Commission

Beth Orlansky, Advocacy Director Mississippi Center for Justice

Pam Dollar, Executive Director Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities

Rims Barber, Executive Director Mississippi Human Services Coalition

Angela Ladner, Executive Director Mississippi Psychiatric Association

Derrick Johnson, President Mississippi State Conference NAACP

Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, Executive Director Mississippi Women's Economic Security Initiative

Carol Burnett, Executive Director Moore Community House

Tameka Tobias, Executive Director National Alliance of Mental Illness, Mississippi

Teri Brister, Ph.D., L.P.C., Director, Knowledge Integration, Information, Support & Education National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Office

Ellen Reddy, Executive Director Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc

Mandy Rogers, Executive Director Parents United Together

Jody Owens, Executive Director Southern Poverty Law Center Mississippi


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