Fixing a Broken Mental Health Care System

Despite advances in medicine, mental health care is still unable to keep up with the mental health needs of society.

For the most part, research has always focused more on physical ailments than mental ones. Infant mortality, chronic illnesses, and infectious disease have seen vast improvement as far as life expectancy is concerned, but the question that everyone keeps dancing around is “what progress are we making with mental health care?” and to that end, the answers are much slower in coming.

Mental health care is our responsibility too.

Should the roughly 1 in 3 people who get a disease such as cancer or heart disease be banished or punished for their illness or should they get the treatment they need?

Obviously they should get treatment, but many communities still do not know what to do with mental health challenges and are vastly ignoring this extremely visible crisis.

The mentally ill are 8 times more likely to end up incarcerated than they are to end up in a mental health facility. Some are waiting for a bed to open in a mental health facility. Others are the victims of a system based on circular logic that begins with an arrest, eventually moves on to a release, and almost always ends by repeating the entire process over again. Needless to say, that’s an expensive and wasteful approach to mental health care that puts even greater burden on the communities who would just as soon bus their mentally ill to the next town.

Institutional care is a good step, but it’s a very incomplete one. The mentally ill need an ongoing collective community effort to support them.

Those who are most likely to slip through the system are those who never received proper mental health care to begin with. Indigents who feel they have no purpose (and most certainly have no resources to deal with mental health issues) and career criminals may self-medicate or use other unhealthy means of survival.

Leon Rios created the first Community Collaboration in Texas to help people needing mental health care get the treatment, jobs, and resources they need for a better quality of life, not just mere survival. His approach includes reintegration efforts for those who are on their way out of the system, as well as initiatives to prevent others from getting into the system to begin with.

The process itself involves screenings to ascertain specific issues and needs, as well as potential support systems. Professionals within the community identify the needs and match them with existing resources so that upon release, the individual in question is not in “sink or swim” mode, but is instead surrounded by several “rafts” that can help him or her find a valuable role in the community.

At first glance, this may look as if the only function is to relieve the burden on the state. The truth is far more optimistic than that. For many of these individuals, this collaboration is their first chance at anything close to a “normal” productive life---something that doesn’t just relieve burdens on the state, but increases productivity in the community. And hope. This method offers hope for mentally ill within the community, but also hope for other communities who might model their efforts.

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1/20/2017 8:00:00 AM
Leon Rios
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Mr. Leon “Leo” H. Rios is experienced in preparing leaders for challenges created by rapid change. Leo Rios has nearly 40 years of experience in U.S. military, U.S. interagency, and international operations, planning, and strategic design. Upon retiring from active military duty, Leo developed and oversaw the implement...
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Posted by patrick maina
An update: Texas State Senator, Lois Kolkhorst issued the following press release. Please note the last paragraph. Collaboratives -- such as the Gulf Bend Collaborative -- can and do make a difference.

During ongoing state budget negations, Texas State Senator Kolkhorst secured adoption of a rider to the state budget that sets aside funding to improve mental health care in rural Texas.

Senator Kolkhorst's proposal would fund a set of pilot programs across rural Texas to divert individuals who have mental health issues from filling local jails. The rider specifically guides the Health and Human Services Commission to direct funds to rural Local Mental Health Authorities to establish "jail-diversion" programs.

"These programs should reduce incarcerations of individuals with mental illness by diverting these individuals to mental health professionals, with the cooperation of local law enforcement," said Kolkhorst. "Currently, county jails and emergency rooms are sometimes the only option for holding individuals who need mental health treatment. These types of settings can be costly for county taxpayers, and ultimately can fail to provide the person in crisis with the mental health care they need."

Kolkhorst has been working with area Sheriffs, and community leaders on this issue. She credits the Gulf Bend Region as being a leader in mental health, and has praised the region for establishing The Gulf Bend Community Collaborative. This program is a regional partnership between local and county governments, educators, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and the Gulf Bend Region Center, which establishes a local plan for how to avoid mental health related arrests and incarcerations.
Posted by Leon Rios
Its heartening to hear of mental healthcare receiving the kind of innovative leadership and community commitment it deserves. One wonders what problems other communities could solve if they met so regularly and with such dedication to helping the underserved. But in the meantime, one can be grateful the Gulf Bend Community Collaborative has come together to address this one.
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Makes sense to form private and public partnerships to manage serious problems. The private sector is better at economy and the public sector better at funding and oversight.
Posted by Donald McGee
An ingenious approach to a national level problem! This is an exemplary approach that is worthy of emulation by all communities. I look forward to learning more about this program as I am buoyed by the idea that communities can do more to take care of their own. Bravo!
Posted by V Furlow

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