Another viewpoint: Sensible Indiana bill to advance mental health services

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Today’s fractured politics does not provide a climate for productive bipartisan cooperation on many issues, let alone unanimous agreement. That the Indiana Senate would vote 49-0 on a bill to improve mental health services in the state demonstrates a widespread acknowledgement over just how dire the need is for a bill of this type.

Senators passed the bill last week without dissent, sending it on to the House for its review. There is no guarantee representatives will embrace the bill in the same manner, but the unanimous vote from their Senate counterparts is an encouraging sign.

Senate Bill 1 aims to transform the 988 Crisis Hotline and create 988 Response Centers. Once implemented, it would allow mobile crisis teams to assist in a severe mental health crisis.

The bill also provides a mechanism for the state to apply for federal financial support to expand its small but growing network of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. There are currently 19 such clinics in Indiana, including Hamilton Center headquartered in Terre Haute. Centers of this type are designed to enhance access to coordinated comprehensive behavioral health.

The proposal has broad support across the state from individuals, groups, agencies and organizations who strive to provide mental health services in their communities. That certainly helps get the attention of lawmakers and keep the bill moving.

One powerful and articulate person promoting SB 1 is Dr. Jerome Adams, executive director of Purdue Health Equity Initiatives. More importantly, he is a former Indiana State Health Commissioner and served as the 20th U.S. Surgeon General.

Adams makes a compelling case that mental illness and suicide rates are rising across the nation, with Indiana no exception. In a recent commentary he released to media outlets, Adams cites a recent report from the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission that shows one in five Hoosiers suffer from mental illness each year.

“Shockingly since 2016, more than 1,000 Hoosiers have been lost to suicide every year,” Adams writes. “This heartbreaking crisis is impacting families across our great state, particularly our children. Beyond the significant human consequence, mental illness is costing Indiana over $4 billion a year in lost productivity, premature mortality, chronic disease, and other expenses.”

The report Adams cites is the source for SB 1’s proposals. He says similar provisions exist in a number of states already, with positive results. His recommendation to lawmakers is simple. It’s time to take action, because a comprehensive crisis response system in Indiana is vital to improving the mental health and wellness of Hoosiers.

“State policymakers have an opportunity to take meaningful first steps to build this necessary infrastructure with Senate Bill 1,” Adams writes. “For the health of our state now and for generations to come, I urge the Indiana General Assembly to give this key legislation the utmost consideration.”

Adams makes a compelling case. As the House takes up this important bill in coming weeks, we join him in supporting quick passage.