Unfortunately, inadequate funding from the start and severe budget cuts over the years have left our country with few of the promised “community-based” services. The lack of our success in moving to this “community-based” mental health model has been called the “greatest social disaster of the 20th century” by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. We cannot cut these services as a way to save money and ignore the obvious desperate need for these services.
Because of the lack of access to services, frequently, the person with mental illness is left with three options: retreat to a loved one’s basement, live on the streets or, by misfortune, end up in jail.
More and more often the default destination is becoming jail. The number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons has quadrupled in Georgia since 1991. We have now returned to the conditions in the 1840s by putting our mentally ill into jails and prisons.
We are failing by not offering enough affordable case management services. You must be an advocate for a person with mental illness because it is hard for this person to seek help on their own. You have to overcome the barriers of getting them to a hospital or a psychiatrist.
The good news is this — people with mental illness can recover partially or fully with today’s medication and proper care management.
In Cobb County jails, we spend $78 a day per incarcerated person diagnosed with a mental illness and 46 percent of jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness. If we redirect the incarcerated diagnosed with mental illness and charged with petty crimes and properly oversee their rehabilitation, we would save around $28 million a year from the Cobb County jail budget!
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley has seen the “revolving door” situation in the community for years that produces “frequent fliers” and has long wanted to stop it. She is an advocate for the creation of a new “mental health court.” It is a step in the right direction to providing some case management through a judge.
The court will cost little and use existing services, but for the long-term success of the program, the proper “community-based” services need to be available that have been promised for years. These services have been a victim of irresponsible budget cuts.
We propose that the county act responsibly and take some of the dollars saved with getting people with mental illness out of jails, and put it into county “community-based” services like the Cobb/Douglas Community Service Board.
We have been given the opportunity as a county through State House Bill 1176, to receive grant money from the state to run a mental health accountability court in Cobb County. We already have been offered “start-up” funds from the state, but we lose some of this money every day by delaying our decision to accept funds.
Sometimes when a person has a mind compromised by mental illness, they do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s hard to describe what goes on in the head of a person with mental illness, but you can liken it to the state your mind gets in when you lose a loved one.
People with mental illness should have a second chance at recovery, particularly since we haven’t been responsible about providing the necessary affordable services to recover — and there is a lot of hope they will recover with today’s medicines and proper care management.
A new mental health court begins to address the proper rehabilitation of people with severe mental illness in jail with petty crimes, in probation courts and in the community by offering case management in phases over two years.
It is inexpensive, saves money and creates a taxpayer and county benefit.
Contact your commissioners and express your support for the creation of the Cobb County Mental Health Court. The proposition will be considered again by the commissioners on April 9.
Anne E. Rood is a community volunteer, writer and professional grant writer.