Ohio's public mental health safety net is stretched too thin, and the supply of mental health services statewide does not meet current and future needs.
That is the principal finding of a report issued by the Ohio Mental Health Commission following more than a year of public hearings and consultation with consumers, advocates and mental health providers. The 18-member commission is led by Jerald Kay, M.D., professor and chair of psychiatry at Wright State University School of Medicine.
"One in five Ohioans experiences some form of a mental illness every year. Despite recent advances in treatments and interventions, nearly half of all people with a severe mental illness do not receive treatment," Kay says. The commission also found that the various departments in state government - education, corrections, family services, mental health - do not collaborate well with each other.
"The departments must work together more closely since their programs and target populations overlap so much," Kay says. "At the same time, there are exceptional professionals in the field who are committed to helping people with mental illness. The system needs to do a better job of recruiting and retaining them," he added.
The commission's blueprint for the future of mental health services in Ohio includes these recommendations:
- Pass a mental health parity law to reduce "artificial limits that prohibit adequate coverage of mental illness" among private insurers.
- Eliminate regulations in Medicaid and other programs that prevent people from continuing medications and treatment if they get a job.
- Develop early intervention programs for children and adolescents with mental disorders and begin to focus mental health services within the school system where children and youth spend much of their time.
- Develop more accessible services for the elderly while decreasing the stigma attached to seeking help.
- Provide adequate housing and job placement, which are also critical to recovery.
- Promote treatments that are scientifically supported to insure high quality of services.
- Consider mental courts that divert those with psychiatric illness from the criminal justice system.
- Insure greater cooperation between mental health and substance abuse services since these disorders frequently coexist.
- Secure additional funding for transitional services from hospitalization to the community including appropriate intensive programs that decrease re-admission rates and support reintegration into society.
- Seek a Medicaid waiver to reduce a fiscal drain on agencies caused by Medicaid contracts.
- Make a strong commitment to increasing and realigning funding since mental health funding in Ohio has decreased over the last 10 years.
"Governor Taft acknowledged that the budget will be problematic this year, but mental health is an important issue for him. He wants to work with us," Kay says.
The commission is a time-limited group formed by the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH), which will develop an action plan to implement its recommendations. The commission will continue to meet to oversee implementation.