Mind Over Matter

People aren’t whispering about mental health issues any more. People are now talking about it and asking questions. Just ask Benjamin Brafman, CEO of Destination Hope and founder of the non-profit Guardian Behavioral Health Foundation, who has been instrumental in bringing the mental health and law enforcement communities together.

The common goal we all share is to bridge the gap between mental health providers and law enforcement so we can better understand the needs of patients and how to treat them effectively. We all know that jail is no place for these people. Part of our advocacy mission is to decriminalize mental health disorders and remove criminal penalties from those who are sick who become incarcerated.

In order to understand where we are going, we need to know where we came from. By the start of the 20th century, there was serious overcrowding in mental institutions and the country was facing economic decline and warfare. As a result, funding was cut, which led to poor living conditions and ill-treatment and abuse of patients.

After many years of public arguments and class action lawsuits, these institutions were shut down. With the rise of new psychiatric medications helping people stabilize, the patients housed in these institutions were released back into the community. Opposing viewpoints on deinstitutionalization ensued, and now the issue is placement.

Today, approximately 20 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have a recent history of a mental health condition. From being institutionalized to released onto the streets and then thrown into jail, one can’t help but wonder how our government would ever consider this a positive alternative.

Long-term counseling treatment, combined with the right medication, has been proven successful for many people living with mental illness. They can become stable, live productive lives and enter the world with support.

But until they get to that point, they must live in a residential treatment center longer than a 72-hour Baker Act hold. Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted for most residential dual diagnosis treatment centers, unless they are hospitals that offer acute care—and again it brings us back to a very short allotted stay.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four American adults live with a seriously disabling mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Direct costs of mental illness have been estimated at almost $150 billion dollars a year and rising. Half of all mental health dollars in the state of Florida are spent on institutional care. Yet for the same amount of money that it costs to incarcerate someone for 90 days, we could provide an individual with housing, mental health services, community support and financial assistance for an entire year.

“Treating individuals in the community by providing them with the financial and clinical support needed for them to thrive long-term is far more cost-effective and humane than short term incarceration,” said Brafman.

From community awareness and professional training to service linkage and financial assistance, Guardian Behavioral Health Foundation provides care where it is most cost-effective and most needed: the community.

Allison Seriani
Public Relations & Communications, Destination Hope

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