Mental healthcare gap eyed
- Published: November 12, 2015
Misunderstanding of mental illness happens on state and national levels, among medical, criminal justice, and social services personnel. Misinformation can lead to stigmatization and inadequate policy, which in turn furthers illness and impedes recovery.
Concerns such as these have prompted area mental health organizations to host a town hall meeting that will assess mental health services in Greene County.
A Greene County Town Hall Meeting on Mental Illness will take place on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Greene County Educational Services Center, 360 E. Enon Road. The meeting is a collaboration between the Ohio Empowerment Coalition, Clark, Greene and Madison County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and TCN Behavioral Health Services, and is free and open to all. A continental breakfast will be provided.
The public is invited to hear panel discussions and ask questions of representatives from substance abuse rehabilitation facilities, law enforcement, probation officers, the court system, housing providers, and other professionals involved with mental health care. The idea is to get people from different professions and experiences on the same page about what works and what doesn’t, and where communication may be lacking between their respective arenas.
While Greene County actually rates better than other state and national networks in terms of its mental health care infrastructure, one of the region’s biggest challenges are the gaps in the treatment process, which often means that someone going through a mental health crisis will not get the treatment he or she needs, said Angela Dugger, executive director of NAMI of Clark, Greene, and Madison Counties.
Donna Sorrell, a certified peer support specialist with NAMI-CGM and a local resident with bipolar disorder, highlighted her own experience as emblematic of the problems with area care. She was taken to Greene Memorial Hospital during a psychotic break but had to be taken elsewhere upon arrival because Greene Memorial had no psychiatric care facilities, as the service was eliminated as part of budgets cuts years before. Ultimately she was taken to Kettering Behavioral Medical Center in Kettering and given a tranquilizer and then released after 24 hours, without being put in contact with a specialist or issued a prescription to temper future episodes. She was effectively back where she started, she said.
“How does this help?” she asked. “Where do I go after I am released? Who follows up?”
Similarly, Greene County’s TCN has no agreement with Soin Medical because the hospital does not have the appropriate facilities either. Currently, someone with a mental health emergency has to be driven to Miami Valley Hospital, Dugger said. Uncertainty about which facilities are equipped to address such crises is a problem that local EMS often faces, she said.
There is a disconnect between the criminal justice system and mental health care as well, said Dugger, which is why the meeting will host a discussion called “ending the cycle.” The cycle refers to a scenario in which a person is arrested for events that occurred during a psychotic episode, taken to jail (and likely handled by officers without training or understanding of mental illness), and eventually released with no follow-up care, or in many cases, anywhere to go. Because there is no follow-up care, the individual often relapses and lands back in jail, beginning the cycle again, Sorrell said.
People with mental illnesses often end up homeless, picked up for loitering or theft to take care of their own needs, Sorrell said, and this is a cycle that is happening all over the country. People are left to fend for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand mental illness, she said. Closing these gaps through better communication and by having more efficient protocols in place is critical to recovery.
“A more organized plan prevents folks from relapsing, and supports in place prevent recidivism,” said Dugger.
The meeting will also include a presentation on suicide and suicide prevention, led by Greta Mayer, Director of Prevention and Community Engagement with the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene, and Madison Counties. Mayer will discuss county, state and national statistics and explain how increased suicide rates are indicative of problems in a community and lack of access to care, she said.
The meeting will also address ways in which care can better benefit patients, including ‘person-driven care,’ in which instead of taking direction from a counselor or professional, a person is asked what he or she thinks is needed to get better. Sorrell said. The steps towards recovery are individualized, and people make better progress when they are meeting goals they set for themselves, she said.
People struggling with mental illness need social acceptance and they need to know that they’re part of the greater community, Sorrell said. We need to let them function in society in the best way that they can, and we need to help facilitate recovery.
“Mental illness is no different than heart or lung disease — a part of the body is not functioning at capacity, and this is not shameful,” Sorrell said. “I have learned through personal experience that you can go through mental illness and come out the wiser.”