No easy solution for mental health care
Tackling mental health is a difficult, but critical task for any community. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to addressing the issue.
Simply putting those with mental illnesses in jail has proven to be a failing effort. Law enforcement and judges recognize that it simply overpopulates jails and leads to a vicious cycle where people are in and out of jail and don’t get the help they so desperately need.
Those issues were discussed during a summit hosted by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy in October. Federal leaders said the work, which includes providing the best quality care for the mentally ill, should start on the local level.
Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, told the Advocate that local communities have to pony up the funding for adequate treatment. Not only can it be used to attract federal grant dollars, the services could help those suffering with mental illnesses become more productive members of society.
One such effort happened in Arlington, Virginia, roughly 10 years ago. Cynthia Kemp, currently the deputy director at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Office of the Medical Officer, said the city raised roughly $800,000 for a jail diversion program and crisis intervention team.
Inmates who were newly released from jail were quickly matched up with social services. Also, judges visited them in hospitals so they could receive continuous psychiatric care.
Kemp said the approach wasn’t without its flaws or challenges, but at least some progress was made locally.
Getting a hearty amount of federal grant money isn’t easy, according to the Department of Justice. Since 2006, $98 million in the department’s mental health program has been distributed throughout more than 430 jurisdictions.
There are some exceptions, including the Safe Haven facility in St. Tammany Parish. It receives more than $300,000 annually through a parish public health tax and recently was awarded $5.2 million in federal grants.
The overall takeaway from the summit was clear. If local communities want to provide better services for the mentally ill, it’s going to have to start with them.
Simply waiting on federal support isn’t an option. Neither is sticking with the formula of putting them in jail.