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Indiana among worst in U.S. for treating mental illness

State scores D-minus in report by national advocacy group

 

by Dann Denny

331-4350 | denny@heraldt.com

March 2, 2006

 

Jill Taylor is not surprised that Indiana's treatment of mentally ill residents ranks among the worst in the nation according to a report card released by a national advocacy group.

 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness gave Indiana an overall D-minus grade, placing it ahead of only 10 other states.

 

"I have a brother with mental illness, and watching him interact with the system in Bloomington and Terre Haute has been a nightmare," said Taylor, president of NAMI: Greater Bloomington Area. "It's also an ongoing nightmare for all the families that contact me saying they can't get help and support for their mentally ill loved ones."

 

The NAMI report card gave the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction Fs in two of the four areas it examined - the state's mental-health-care system and the support given to recovering patients.

 

The state received a D for its delivery of services, and a C-plus for the amount of information available to patients and their families.

 

The report, released Wednesday, chastised the state agency for a lack of innovation, criticized lengthy waiting lists for community services (which in some cases reached 100 people) and cited a low level of housing assistance.

 

Dennis Morrison, chief executive of the Center for Behavioral Health, said things may not be as bad in Bloomington as they are statewide.

 

Morrison said the Bloomington-based center has one of the most comprehensive housing-assistance programs in the state.

 

It features 130 beds of residential services for those with mental illness and four apartment complexes for people with serious mental illnesses.

 

"Housing assistance is crucial," Morrison said. "If your housing is not stable it's hard to keep your life stable."

 

On the positive side

 

Morrison added that the center has no waiting list and turns no one away.

 

Indiana was one of five states that received top scores for making basic information available to patients or their families by telephone or the Internet.

 

The report also noted that Indiana has begun revamping its services - including hiring outside companies to run its three psychiatric hospitals and increasing collaboration with other agencies.

 

Jim Jones, executive director of the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers, said the report card reflected a national health-care system in disarray.

 

Morrison agrees.

 

Not on 'radar screens'

 

"In Indiana and across the country, mental illness is not an important issue for most folks," he said. "It doesn't get on peoples' radar screens, and when it does, it generally does not engender positive feelings."

 

Morrison said this is one reason why funding for facilities that help the mentally ill is shrinking. He said Gov. Mitch Daniels' recent budget cut funding to the state's mental health centers by 7 percent.

 

Taylor agreed that a lack of money is a major factor that hinders mentally ill people's access to treatment.

 

"Most health insurance policies have a $1 million to $5 million lifetime benefit for physical illness, but only a $25,000 lifetime benefit for psychiatric illness," she said. "In this day and age, $25,000 can be eaten away very quickly. As a result, it's common for families to become poverty stricken paying for services for their mentally ill loved one."

 

Taylor said while Medicare covers 80 percent of the costs of outpatient treatment for traditional medical disorders, it covers only 50 percent of the costs of outpatient psychiatric treatment.

 

Taylor said the way we treat the mentally ill is a reflection of our culture.

 

"The humanity of society can be measured by how we treat those people who absolutely need help," she said. "In the U.S., we tend to sweep the mentally ill under the carpet."

 

Or into the jails.

 

Societal problem

 

"Twenty five to 33 percent of the U.S. jail population suffers from mental illness," she said. "If our mental health system was more effective we would not have an overpopulation problem in our local jail."

 

Taylor said part of the problem is that government and society lump the mentally ill together with those with less severe mental health issues.

 

"Mentally ill people are not the worried well - people on Prozac or those with situational depression," she said. "They are people with a biological brain dysfunction who need psychiatric medication to have any kind of normal experience of reality."

 

Other states

 

Indiana was one of four states - the others being Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nevada - to receive an overall grade of D-minus.

 

Indiana ranked ahead of Illinois and Kentucky, which both received Fs on the report card. Ohio tied with Connecticut for the best score, a B. Michigan received a C-plus.

 

The nation as a whole received a D.

 

How to improve

 

Taylor said the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction would be wise to solicit input from families of mentally ill patients before providing state programming for the mentally ill.

 

"The administrators of that agency should sit down with the families of mentally ill people and ask them what is and is not working," she said.

 

Morrison said that routinely transpires at the Center for Behavioral Health.

 

"I'm meeting with some family members tonight for some input," Morrison said. "It's valuable because we get to hear feedback from them and they get to hear from us."

 

Taylor said families with mentally ill loved ones who are trying to navigate the mental-health-care system can attend NAMI's support group meetings at 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month in Room 302 of the First United Methodist Church, 219 E. Fourth St.

 

NAMI's full report card can be viewed at www.nami.org.

 

(Article reprinted with permission from The Herald Times.)


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