Not enough funding locally to care for mental health and addiction problems

In recent years financial support for mental health, alcohol and drug addiction programs have been significantly reduced by both the state and federal governments. In Washington County that has resulted in the loss of programs that provide services to those suffering from mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

The Behavioral Health Board can no longer fund programs such as Bridges to Recovery (an education program that teaches consumers of mental health services about their illnesses and ways to interact with their health care providers); Wellness Recovery Action Plan (a program that helps consumers of mental health services manage and plan necessary steps to take in case of relapse); and Mental Health Resource staff in schools (available for in-school counseling as well as helping the schools identify and provide resources to students in need of services).

The state has funded primarily crisis and emergency services to individuals with mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders. Some restricted funding has been provided for prevention programs targeting gambling and alcohol and drug addiction. These programs are primarily youth programs. There is no funding available for prevention programs for adults.

There are other unfunded needs that should be addressed in the county: (1) recovery support services to help prevent or ameliorate relapses; (2) peer support services to help in recovery maintain their recovery and identify imminent relapse so that preventative measures can be taken; (3) community education programs to help the community better understand these illnesses and help prevent stigma that causes so many who need care from seeking it; and (4) continuum of care services including the aforementioned programs, as well as job training and placement, primary health care, and case management. Continuum of care services have been found to be the most cost efficient and effective method of treating these illnesses.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services expects the 55 Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Boards, which represent all 88 of Ohio’s counties, to ensure that these services are available in their communities. The state does not fully fund this mandate and expects the boards to find local funding. The primary source of local funding for the majority of ADAMHS Boards around the state is levies. Only 12 of the 55 ADAMHS Boards, including the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, do not have levies and, as a result, these programs are unfunded and do not exist in their areas.

There are several ADAMHS Boards around the state that have passed levies and have similar populations and demographics as Washington County. The closest of these ADAMHS Boards are those representing Athens-Hocking-Vinton counties, Muskingum Area (Muskingum, Coshocton, Guernsey, Noble, Morgan, and Perry counties), Jefferson County, and the one representing Belmont-Harrison-Monroe counties (only Belmont has a levy). These boards are able to provide the full array of services to their residents.

The opiate epidemic in this area as well as the less well publicized but widespread incidence of mental illness demands that we provide better services in this county. It is doubtful that there is a family, business, congregation, or organization in this county that is not affected by these illnesses. Our community needs to be better informed on these issues so that we can address these issues and come to a consensus on funding the necessary programs.

Brett Nicholas is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board and chairman of the Public Information and Education Committee of the Board.