JACKSON, Miss. (Press Release) — Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the establishment of the Mississippi Mental Health Task Force, which was created to bring many voices to the table to create recommendations for improving services for the mentally ill in the state.
The task force, which had its first meeting this week, will focus on voluntary and involuntary commitment procedures, uniform processing in the courts, crisis intervention training for law enforcement and their relationship with mental health centers, access to resources for family support, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and treatment, among other issues.
“We must make it easier on parents and loved ones to help their family member get the treatment they need,” said General Hood. “My goal is to make the commitment process easier and more uniformed, whether voluntary or involuntary. Right now, each county plays by their own rules, and we need to make sure that, whether you’re someone in DeSoto County or Hancock County, the forms, filing fees, and processes of being committed are the same across the state.”
Thirty-one organizations and offices are represented on the task force, including but not limited to mental health professionals, local and statewide elected officials, law enforcement officers, chancery judges, medical associations, and community service organizations.
“The commitment and passion of the resource professionals from the public and private sectors at our first meeting is compelling,” said 10th Chancery Court District Judge Ronald Doleac. “Working together, we can surely partner to alleviate cost concerns and bring more uniformity to our court commitment processes for evaluation, care, and treatment for our citizens with mental health and drug related issues.”
“There are a lot of hurting families who find it almost impossible to navigate the extremely complex system of mental health in our state,” said Dave Van, Executive Director of Region 8 Mental Health. “There are discrepancies across the state in how patients get to the point of receiving help, and we want to streamline that process. No one disagrees on where the state of mental health services needs to go, but having this group of people come together to find the best way to get there will be extremely beneficial to so many families across Mississippi.”
“The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Mississippi (NAMI MS) is a grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for Mississippians affected by mental illness,” said NAMI MS Executive Director Tameka Tobias. “Through education, support, and advocacy, we strive to eliminate the pervasive stigma of mental illnesses, effect positive changes in the mental health system, and increase the public and professional understanding of mental illnesses. To this end, NAMI MS advocates for policies that increase access to appropriate treatment and supports that enable children and adults to achieve their hopes and dreams. We look forward to working alongside our fellow colleagues, elected officials and community members to implement much needed change throughout Mississippi.”
The mental health task force will also review current legislation as well as needs for additional legislation. The discussions in this week’s meeting included mandating law enforcement to be trained in crisis intervention to know how to deal with a person who is mentally ill, creating outpatient commitment orders, authorizing chancery judges to issue writs for law enforcement to hold those arrested who are suffering a mental illness for 72 hours to seek evaluation rather than charging them with a crime, creating a centralized referral network of contact information for service providers, prioritizing mental health treatment within jails and detention centers and the Medicaid benefits that cover them while in jail, and developing protocols to divert persons that are experiencing a mental health crisis from the criminal justice system.
“I appreciate the invitation to be a part of this task force,” said Mississippi Department of Mental Health Director of the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services Melody Winston. “At DMH, we believe that increasing access to treatment, implementing evidence-based prevention strategies and providing recovery support services as related to substance use disorders should be a statewide effort. A convergence of state resources supporting these efforts is necessary to address this growing problem in our state.”
“I think that those of us who treat people with serious mental illnesses share a common belief with our friends in law enforcement,” said Mississippi State Hospital forensic psychiatrist Dr. Tom Recore. “We believe that people with such illnesses should not be housed in detention centers. They should be treated in mental health facilities. This task force is doing the important work of bringing together the mental health and criminal justice systems in our state so that we can try to figure out how to make this happen.”
“This is a great step forward in addressing the issue we currently have with people who are mentally ill ending up in our jails instead of where they need to be to get help,” said Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp. “Thankfully, my deputies are prepared for situations involving individuals with mental illness because of our crisis intervention training and our relationship with community mental health centers. I strongly urge all law enforcement to get on board with that training because it’s the best thing going to help stabilize mentally ill patients in the field, and that’s a goal I have for this task force.”
“I’ve been working with mental health professionals and law enforcement for 25 years as a prosecutor,” said General Hood. “This is the first meeting where I’ve seen the two come together on the same page. That is encouraging, and that’s the goal of this task force: to bring all stakeholders to the table to ensure that everyone in our state battling a mental illness or addiction will have access to the support and services they need to begin their journey to recovery. Thank you to the many members of this task force who are caring for truly the least among us—those with a mental illness.”