At a local meeting on Saturday, Major Andy Shields from Macon County Sheriff Department spoke regarding the man hours spent on people with severe mental health issues.
Since early 2000, funding in all states for mental health facilities has diminished, and there has been a focus to take some severe patients from secure facilities and integrate them into society. Independence Training ensued of some higher functioning patients, with an end goal of rehabilitation and part-time work. It sadly succeeded for a very few, and for several others had tragic consequences.
I worked in a Day Treatment facility where 30 clients would come daily from assisted living to a group function where their medications were monitored by a visiting psychiatrist. During the day the patients participated in socialization programs. Then they would return home where medications were closely monitored. Most functioned fairly well with this structure and attention.
As training for the exit of our program progressed, the stress became apparent in all the patients. Several from our facility were to "graduate" to independent living and begin working at MacDonald's, thrift stores, and the like. Some of these unfortunate souls did not take the re-introduction into society pressure well and they over medicated themselves with fatal results. To complicate matters, in very few months, the Day Treatment program was unfunded and closed due to government cutbacks in mental health.
According to Major Shields, funding in N.C. is currently much too low to deal with serious mental health issues including substance abuse. Substance abuse can lead directly to behavioral and mental health problems. Facilities in N.C. where mental health is treated have been forced to reduce the number of beds to seriously low levels. This situation has resulted in a revolving door for our local sheriff, these patients and their families. Because of funding cuts, when a citizen is deemed a threat to themselves or society, they are picked up and delivered to the emergency room with the law enforcement officer spending long hours, otherwise unproductive, at the hospital, and sometimes a single officer contends with as many as seven waiting to be treated! Once treated by the emergency services, the Sheriff’s Dept. is then responsible to transport these individuals to counties outside Macon County where mental health care is available.
With state facilities reducing bed accessibility year after year, patients are often released back to families and the cycle then repeats all over again. The cost to taxpayers is great as many law enforcement hours are expended, usually without successful results for the patient. All the while, families struggle trying to deal with their loved one. With inadequate treatment and living arrangements, theses individuals most often wind up on the street, possibly causing harm to themselves and hurting others. These are the forgotten people in our health system.
Our state must allow for more mental health treatment facilities and more funding. Call or write your legislators! As witnessed by the many tragedies this year where young men with psychiatric troubles have killed people indiscriminately, we must address this mental health issue now. This problem will only become worse if we continue to turn a blind eye towards mental health issues and its diminished funding while blaming irrelevant factors.
Sonja Thompson — Franklin, N.C.