Time to stamp out stigma of mental illness

Mental illness is a staggering national problem. The National Institute of Health projected spending $396 million on serious mental illness in 2016. That is peanuts compared to the $8 billion spent on heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The cost of serious mental illnesses cost America $193 billion annually. Mental illness generates as much as $100 billion in direct cost to American businesses. Adding such indirect costs as lost productivity and disability claims raises businesses’ losses much higher.

Indiana ranks second in the nation in teen suicides, and Hancock County was averaging a suicide weekly the first quarter of last year. Our veterans are averaging around 20 suicides daily. That leads me to say thank you Senator Joe Donnelly for leading the congressional effort to reduce those numbers and increase the treatment programs available to those who sacrifice so much for the defense of America. It is certainly time for Congress to give a higher priority to the mental illness problems we face. Thanks should also go to State Sen. Mike Crider for his support of mental health in the General Assembly.

Locally, the non-profit organization Mental Health Partners of Hancock County leads the way in advocating for better treatment and preventive services. The organization has come a long way in terms of improving its advocacy and getting things done for the betterment of our mental health. As a board member of the organization, I am proud of what it has accomplished in the past few years. But there is so much more to be done. MHP has trained more than 110 individuals in suicide prevention. Its Gift Lift program aids vulnerable people during the stressful Christmas season. Its advocacy has resulted in long-needed improvements in the services the local community mental health center provides in Hancock County.

MHP has long advocated for the creation of a mental health court to operate as part of our county court system. While such courts have succeeded in reducing incarcerations and costs in parts of the nation, there is not enough funding locally. Thanks, however, to Judge Richard Culver, prosecutor Brent Eaton, Wayne Addison and his probation department, specific new protocols have been put into place for offenders with mental and/or substance abuse disorders. By routing such offenders away from jail and into special programs, the county will save at least the $139 per day cost of incarceration along with various other costs, including court costs. Lately, the heroin protocol program has received considerable positive publicity which led to increased contributions from members of the community. Through such donations and grants MHP funnels revenues into the program to cover the program’s costs. Additional donations are needed. Kim Hall, executive director of MHP also serves on the program’s advisory board. Now MHP is seeking volunteers to be trained as life coaches for participants of the protocol program.

The next steps MHP is taking includes working with Hancock Regional Hospital to create a heroin protocol program for individuals who have not violated the law. It has approached local law enforcement departments and fire departments about the importance of crisis intervention training which would help officers in the handling of disruptive individuals with mental disorders. Such training would help officers and EMTs who handle such individuals reduce the odds of litigation. It will also reduce the number of incarcerations by increasing the number of occasions when treatment options are a better choice. Our goal is to provide such training for all county first-responders.

As I write this I am wearing a shirt that says “Could you love someone with a mental illness? You probably already have.” Please remember that and help stamp out the stigma of mental illness.

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.