EDITORIAL: Mental health

Discussions of a special statewide advisory committee on mental health care in Mississippi have come back to the center of the problem that’s historically hindered mental health care and treatment: inadequate funding, especially at the community level.
Mississippi officials and mental health professionals, faced with funding shortages and the lack of uniform levels of community care, often resort to placing mentally ill people in jails because there is no other place to house them short of in-patient mental hospitals, a step beyond where they could be treated.
The system, whatever it is, isn’t working for the patients, their families or the public good.
Mental health advocacy lacks neither passion nor compassion in Mississippi: It lacks money and it lacks political will in too many places to provide public support adequate to the need.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chair the public health oversight committees in the House and Senate. They are compassionate, knowledgeable legislators with long-term understanding of the issues. Both chairmen sometimes are required to deal directly with constituents and families who have come to the end of their patience and resources for dealing with loved ones who need medical treatment for mental illnesses. Many other legislators have similar experiences.
Yet, Holland and Bryan cannot act to improve the system without the support of a majority of their peers and Gov. Barbour. It’s a difficult time to talk about spending more on anything in Mississippi government.
We believe, however, that some Mississippians who could influence outcomes still set mental illness aside as a not-top-priority health concern – not a real illness but some kind of separate thing that’s not related to modern medicine.
Everybody is vulnerable to mental illness. No one is invincible.
Sometimes, genetic predisposition – and life choices – contribute to the development of mental illness, but it is a stretch to think that anybody wants to be mentally ill.
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health has a strategic plan in place to shift the burden uniformly statewide to community-based systems, but more resources are needed.
Many people’s mental illnesses can be treated, after professional diagnosis, with medication alone. Others may require counseling and medication, and some may require residential settings to achieve recovery.
It’s difficult to know how well a system can work when it can’t be implemented. Good situations in some communities may be just miles from woefully inadequate community-based care.
We strongly support the special committee’s efforts to offer achievable, helpful recommendations to the 2010 legislative session.

NEMS Daily Journal