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Monday, June 2, 2014

New mental health funding in Howard County

      The recent shooting in Santa Barbara, California again brings out the many questions of how to address the mental health needs of residents who occasionally turn violent.  The young man in this tragedy clearly had significant mental health issues that came to the attention of the family, therapists and the police.  In spite of this reality his issues were not addressed in a manner that may have prevented him from acting out in violent manner.  The reality of our mental health challenges are not usually ones that get the attention of the community as the incident in California.  The usual reality is that individuals experiencing mental health issues are only know to their families, friends and maybe a mental health professional.  The suffering they experience is not usually play out in harming others but in harming themselves.   The reality is that there are twice as many suicides as homicides in our Country every year.
    With the memory of the Columbia Mall shooting this past year the issue of mental health needs in Howard County has received increased attention in the latest Howard County 2015 budget. There is almost $400,000 in new funding for addressing mental health needs.  Here is the summary of the new funding from the Baltimore Business Journal:

  • "A second full-time mobile crisis team, $145,000. This group of police officers and mental health professionals are trained to respond to emergencies. The group gets a good number of calls during their 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily shift. Sometimes a call goes unanswered, if the group is out responding to another incident. State and county funding would add a second team to make sure callers don’t have to wait for help.
  • A group of certified instructors to teach mental health First Aid, $28,700. This training helps participants learn to identify early warning signs of people who are in crisis or developing a mental health disorder. The course also teaches participants how to connect people showing early symptoms with professionals who can help. There are roughly 70 of these specialty instructors in the state and Howard County wants its own dedicated team. The funding would train five instructors, who would teach two classes each. With about 25 participants per class, at least 200 people could come through the training in a year.
  • A new hospital liaison position for the Mental Health Authority, $75,000. The new hire would help patients who turn to Howard County General Hospital for mental health issues connect to community resources when they are discharged. Lining up community support for patients while they are still in the hospital could cut down on the number of people who fall through the cracks.
  • A new police officer dedicated to handling mental health cases, $100,000. The funding will pay for an officer’s salary and needed equipment for the job.
  • A task force to develop a Comprehensive Behavioral Health Action Plan, $40,000. The action plan would identify gaps in mental health services and establish a plan to address them. Edsall Kromm said the task force would aim to complete its report by the end of the year, so that any new needs identified could be addressed in next year’s budget."
   It is encouraging to see these new efforts to address the challenges of providing effective mental health services.  Families struggling alone in trying to meet the mental health needs of a family member often feel unable to adequately address those needs.  Often the "red flags" come too late as they did in Santa Barbara. Let's hope that the new efforts in our County provide the resources to make our community better able to address these needs.

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