EDITORIAL: Mental health care

By NEMS Daily Journal

The possibility that the North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo could be closed because of state funding shortages requires a thorough searching of the public conscience and the state’s human service priorities.
The 50-bed hospital, operating since 1999, serves patients whose conditions warrant in-patient care. It treated 786 patients in 2009, and 6,401 people, all adults, have been admitted since it opened.
Two other state-run mental hospitals also have been ordered to develop closure plans should funding in the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2011, fall short of operating minimums.
Most of the people admitted to the Tupelo hospital are committed under order from a chancery court, which suggest families and caregivers or a community have run out of other options.
Mental health care and treatment in Mississippi has come a long way from the silence, secrecy, anonymity and fear with which mental illness and hospitalization were viewed just a few decades ago.
Paul Callens, director of the Tupelo hospital, said closure would mean discharge of the patients. They would return to their communities, where they might become part of community-based mental health programs, became patients in a general hospital with a psychiatric ward or become wards of the criminal justice system, housed in jail cells, not because they’re criminals but because they’re sick and there’s no other place for them.
We agree with physicians, counselors, ministers and priests, family members and concerned citizens of the larger community that caring for the mentally ill is an ethical and moral obligation of the state – a priority that cannot be determined by the availability of funding alone nor a health service that can be shunted to charity.
Many legislators and other public officials share the conviction that mental health care and treatment cannot be allowed to diminish in quality and availability.
Patients and their families remain the least seen, the least heard and the most marginalized sector of health care despite the best efforts of advocates.
Enlightened religious people – women and men of faith – have been in the forefront of changing contemporary culture’s perception of the mentally ill, and that same motivation should be used to make the case of sustaining mental health care adequacy in our state despite difficult state finances.
The truest humanity seeks those who are the weakest and most vulnerable and reaches out in response to the needs of the least.
Eugene H. Peterson, a Presbyterian scholar who has translated the Bible into contemporary English, offers this prayer, adapted from a Ghanaian folk song:
“Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love;
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.
Neighbors are rich and poor, varied in color and race;
neighbors are near and far away.
Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love;
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.
So, may it be so!”
In Mississippi, when neighbors can’t help themselves, somebody comes to their aid. Adequate mental heath care and facilities need neighborly, public intervention.