Mental health levy necessary

Over the last eight years, state and federal funding allocated to the Behavioral Health Board for mental health and substance use disorders has dropped from $1,075,000 to $635,000, a decrease in funding of approximately 40 percent. Four hundred and forty thousand that was used in the past for direct face-to-face services and other supports for Washington County residents are no longer available.

Approximately one in five adults here in Ohio has a diagnosable mental disorder, which translates to nearly 10,000 individuals in Washington County. Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to be a solution for access to medical services, there still remains the “poor while working” individuals who, in their current economic circumstances, are living paycheck to paycheck and have no hope of buying a private insurance policy. Others, who were forced to buy insurance under the ACA, are presenting at provider agencies for services. After a few visits, they learn the co-pays and deductibles are unaffordable, and stop treatment. Providers are finding Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance do not always pay the claim in full, creating a gap the person receiving the service is responsible for. Untreated mental illness leads to more costly hospitalizations, which cost about four times more per year than receiving treatment locally. More hospitalizations translates to even less dollars being available for the county. Levy funds would allow people to receive treatment locally by establishing a sliding fee scale to help with the patient portion. Some of these same individuals are finding medicines unaffordable also, and are forced to taking the dosage every other day to make it last longer between refills, or not at all. Levy funds will be used for medicines for those most in need.

Other funds generated by the levy would be used to get drug and alcohol prevention programs and curriculums into each school in our county willing to participate. We have to turn the addiction crisis around now. The best way to do so is through prevention programs to teach our younger generation the harmful effects of drugs not only on their body and brains, and the risk of death, but also on their future job opportunities. Early childhood mental health screenings would also be made available using levy funds. A lot of children suffer from traumatic events, like witnessing an overdose, domestic violence, or being in an accident, and need to learn how to overcome the effects of those experiences. It has been proven the earlier the diagnosis and treatment of a mental health issue the better the outcomes later in life. Untreated children are often bullied, suffer from low self-esteem, and are likely to perform poorly and act out in the classroom, thereby deepening the downward spiral.

Levy funds will allow us to continue board provided education programs like Mental Health First Aid. Currently these classes are free and fill up quickly. It is a course designed to help participants identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. Also, Crisis Intervention Training to area law enforcement officers will no longer be free. This program teaches officers how to recognize and deal more appropriately with a person who is, for example, experiencing a panic attack or may be suicidal. These programs, and others like it, give individuals the opportunity to learn more about mental illness, and gives them more confidence to possibly help someone going through a crisis. This also helps break down the stigma of mental illness, thereby creating a healthier and safer community.

Funding is necessary to bring back programs similar to the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). It is a wellness and recovery approach that helps people with mental illness to: 1) decrease and prevent intrusive or troubling feelings and behaviors; 2) increase personal empowerment; 3) improve quality of life: and 4) achieve their own life goals and dreams. Every person’s recovery is different, and this teaches them how to reach what their own definition of recovery is.

Levy funds will be used to further assist the efforts of local coalitions whose primary goals are to keep children engaged in their community, strengthen family ties, participate in activities that are drug, alcohol, and tobacco free, and suicide prevention.

The bottom line is the additional levy funds will be used to help Washington County residents of all ages who need and want help. The person who wants to go back to work, but cannot due to suffering from a mental health issue. With peer (a person who has “walked the walk”) training and support, this person may be able to re-enter the work force and lead a more productive and enjoyable life. Mental health services need to be available to the surviving spouse who has no idea how, or why, to move forward. For the families of loved ones who have finally decided to stop their destructive behavior, appropriate services need to be available, and not three months from now. Funding will make available more face to face services for everyone. For the many addicts who want to quit, we owe a moral obligation to assist. For those addicts who are not yet ready to quit, we still must have services available when they do choose to get better.

By having more funds available for mental health and addiction service providers to tap into, the result will be an increase in available providers, increase in staffing, increase in services, and a decrease in wait times for an appointment.

The .5 mil levy will cost a homeowner only $17.50 annually for a $100,000 value home, or about a nickel a day. Vote “YES” for the mental health levy.

David K. Browne is executive director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears the first Saturday of every month on Opinion.