Letter: Solution for mental illness, drug problems lies with prevention focus

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I am writing to address concerns brought up by Sheriff Terese Amazi to the County Board regarding the shortage of chemical dependency and mental health placement (beds) in our local area. 

On Sept.  30, in an Austin Daily Herald article,  Sheriff Amazi stated that when it comes to how the state deals with involuntary mental health commitments, its system is “severely broken.” The most critical piece in her statement to the County Board was, “The cause for commitment varies from mental illness people are born with to drug-related psychosis.”  In her next statement, she goes on to say, “We are seeing an increase in those that are drug-related.”

A few days later, an opinion letter was published in the Daily Herald on Oct.  3 from the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota in which she said she disagreed with Sheriff Amazi’s quote. The synopsis of her letter is that we do not need more mental health facilities or “beds” but, rather we need to focus on community and mental health providers growing to meet the demands of our population.

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I work for one of the three major mental health service providers in Mower County. I feel that our three agencies cover the front lines of mental health well. Further, we provide many services to other populations in this community. Along with the mentally ill, we provide services to the developmentally delayed, the elderly and the chemically dependent.

The department in which I work, Semi-Independent Living Skills, has doubled its client load since 2013.  Our other program’s numbers in mental health and chemical dependency have also doubled client cases. The robust community and mental health services are already here in Mower County.  So, why aren’t jail populations and mental health placement needs declining?

I think in order to solve some of our societal problems we need to focus on drug and alcohol abuse issues. If you look at the reasons why people are in custody in Mower County, you will see that on any given day the majority of charges leading to arrests are either DWI’s or drug possession related. Through my study of the Mower County Jail population, I noticed 42 of out of 80 of the inmates had a drug-related charge. We have situations in which our citizens are using hard drugs and developing mental health problem that law enforcement is called to address. This is leaving our jails and mental health facilities full. In order to decrease the need for mental health beds, the solution is prevention and early intervention, thus reducing the demand for placements outside of Mower County.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control states, “About one in four adults in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year,” with depression as the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals ages 15-44. Two-thirds of those people with diagnosable mental disorders do not seek treatment.

I think the solution lies within programming for children with mental health needs or coming from at-risk homes. With regard to drug abuse prevention, maybe the county could do research in finding the most successful prevention curriculum. Mower County has been a leader in the prevention of meth production by limiting availability of its ingredients. So too, Mower County could be a leader in drug abuse prevention and thus reduce needs for placements.

Cody Shea, licensed social worker, Austin