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Opinion: A time for action

This week, our country recognizes mental illness awareness. We like to celebrate numerous things every October, like National Chili Week and National Kraut Sandwich Week. No offense to chili or sauerkraut, but Mental Illness Awareness Week is far more important than these other designations. The reasons are simple: We have a severe lack of awareness of this devastating disease, and we live in a society that places a stigma on folks who want — or need — to talk about their illness.

State Sen. Lincoln Hough

During my time in the Missouri Legislature, I have witnessed a change in the willingness to admit that there is this silent epidemic that requires investment by our state. Piggybacking off the federal Excellence in Mental Health Act, we have made significant new investments in care. We have begun to recognize the benefits of a whole-body focused health program, and because of this, we now have collaborations between Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Certified Community Behavioral Health Organizations (CCBHO) that specifically focus on physical health as well as the mental health diagnoses of an individual. These groups have made significant strides in not only treating mental health disorders, but we have also seen across-the-board positive physical health outcomes, like decreases in blood pressure, diabetes prevention, and smoking cessation. More importantly, we have seen lower overall health care costs due to decreases in unnecessary usage of emergency rooms and inpatient hospital stays.

We have also recognized who should treat and how we should treat individuals in a mental health crisis. Investments into Missouri’s Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) have put de-escalation and mental health training for law enforcement officers at the forefront. Additional investments into Community Mental Health Liaisons (CMHL) have embedded mental health professionals into law enforcement departments to get individuals into the right level of care as soon as possible. Newly funded Crisis Stabilization Centers will also provide a warm hand-off of people in crisis to a mental health professional, allowing for treatment while keeping them out of our already overcrowded jails and ERs. I believe this is not only the best treatment option for that person in crisis, but it should also reduce the cost of care to taxpayers exponentially.

Even with all of this, we continue to struggle to completely understand this disease and how to treat it. The worldwide pandemic and a continued large influx of America’s combat troops from the War on Terror will not end this anytime soon. I will continue to work closely with C.J. Davis, president and CEO of our local CCBHO provider, Burrell Behavioral Health. I will also continue to work with the great folks at Jordan Valley FQHC, who continue to collaborate with our mental health professionals to provide whole-body health care. Finally, I will continue to work with the Missouri Behavioral Health Council, the association representing the state’s community providers, to keep and grow our state’s investment into this vital, yet too often hidden, area of health care.