By Janice Morgan
March 12, 2020
Part of the satisfaction of writing a book like this is being able to use it as a tool to bring greater awareness of how mental illness impacts not only individuals but their families. A contingent of us from our local NAMI affiliate (National Alliance on Mental Illness) went to Frankfort to tell our stories to Kentucky legislators because we want them to understand how our families have been impacted by health and criminal justice policies in our state. In turn, legislators get to see how their constituents are doing: how are policies helping or harming us? What do we need to change?
Untreated mental illness affects all of us: in the high rates of homelessness, the high rates of incarceration even for low-level crimes related to addiction, and in the lack of affordable treatment programs for mental illness and the substance use that often accompanies it. There are so many MORE of us affected by these issues than people realize. And what if the person involved is your son or daughter, your spouse, your sibling, or a grandchild?
By sharing our stories with policy makers, we open discussions about what will work better to help bring wellness to the people we care about. We know firsthand that families can’t do this alone.
To start, we need affordable access to health care for ALL, and that includes persons with “pre-existing conditions, ” like bipolar, schizophrenia, autism, or any other diagnosed brain disorders. Affordable treatment for mental health as well as substance abuse (often concurrent) needs to be expanded as a public health policy.
Next, we need better responses to 911 mental health crisis calls. We need trained responders who will know how to de-escalate volatile situations and get persons to appropriate health assistance, not to jail or the morgue.
For people with a diagnosed mental illness and/or a record of problematic substance use, we need more court diversions from jail to treatment programs including Mental Health Courts or Drug Courts. In these programs, “the power of the robe” can provide powerful sanctions to keep people on track with their mental health regimen. They can also provide needed mentorship. And that helps all of us.
For those with chronic, severe mental illness (SMI), families want more long-term community housing and social programs to give their loved ones the best life possible—whatever their skill set or disability may be. We believe that everyone deserves dignity and a chance to live in community. There are excellent examples out there that we can implement for more of our people.
Being part of NAMI Advocacy helps us have a larger, collective voice. You can join, too. Let’s help bring the changes we want to see!