Mental Health Crisis

Common Sense, Common Decency, Rural Values

I am at the Southeast Alabama Medical Center’s Behavioral Medicine Unit on at least a bi-weekly basis for my work as an attorney on mental health commitments, and I have learned that the shuttering of most of our state mental hospitals a few years ago is creating a crisis in our communities. We have simply moved the mentally unstable from hospitals to our jails. I propose a multi-pronged approach to deal with these issues. I will:

  • Promote a mental health awareness campaign. We need to separate mental illness from instability, and encourage people suffering from mental illness to seek help from doctors and professionals, the same way we would with someone dealing with diabetes. Mental illness does not need to be associated with the stigma of mass shooters. 
  • Push for the mental health commission to expand community mental health programs with programs that induce young psychiatrists to come to our area and help service our low/no income mental health patients. At present, Spectracare serves a five-county area and has only two psychiatrists on staff for an extremely large population. The mental health commission should also seek out bids from other mental health programs to see if they can supplement or complement the work Spectracare already does in our community.
  • Ease state licensing restrictions on mental health counselors. Currently, many counselors work in their fields with masters of science degrees in counseling, but are not licensed professional counselors (LPCs) until they present 3,000 supervised training hours to the board to be considered. This is an expensive and unnecessarily arduous process, especially when Alabama is in desperate need of mental health professionals. Licensed practical counselors should have to pass the state exam, and then enter a probationary period with periodic supervision in the first year after accepting a job which utilizes their LPC.
  • Increase incentives for the operations that handle mental instability to expand and persuade private hospitals to develop their own acute care psychiatric units. Southeast Alabama Medical Center and New Day Medical Center offer the only acute care psychiatric units in the tri-state area, and there are fewer than 75 beds (for adults only) expected to service a population of more than 150,000 people. In the end, increasing incentives for expansion will cost far less than loss of life that may occur because an unstable patient was either unable to gain admission to an acute care facility or was released too early because of overcrowding.  
  • Institute a program to pair those receiving community mental health services with attorneys who help them secure federal social security benefits, as such benefits are accompanied by access to federal health insurance programs. This will help offset the costs that Alabama pays for community mental health programs.
  • Propose that all law enforcement agencies have a trained mental health officer on their staff who is specially trained to de-escalate violent situations with the unstable.