Scaling the mental disorder mountain

It was recently announced with great fanfare that Pennsylvania has received an additional $75 million in federal aid to fight the opioid addiction crisis in the state.

About $56 million of it will go to Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol programs.

The money also will help extend programs designed to help people in addiction treatment find stable housing and attract treatment professionals by helping repay their education loans.

Total federal funding to Pennsylvania for its opioid response totals $141 million over the past two years.

That’s a lot of money. Until you consider the opioid crisis impacts just about every family in the state in some way.

Until you consider that the opioid crisis is only an arm of the mental health crisis impacting Pennsylvania — and the nation.

National studies put the percentage of adults in this country with some mental illness at between 17 and 20 percent. That’s about 40 million adults. And though many of them are reluctant or don’t know how to seek the care they need, about 20 percent of those who try can’t get it, either due to lack of care professionals and facilities, inadequate insurance or inability to pay for the care.

Many of these people need a lot more than a visit to a psychiatrist’s office — which, by the way, may take months for a 15-minute session. They need 24-hour, on-call care, a group living environment in a subsidized space, and an ongoing routine that will build the skill to help them get to that next step.

For many of these people, the demons of a mental health disorder, whether fueled by opioids or not, create a paralysis that makes doing the laundry or getting groceries a high mountain of achievement on a given day.

Yes, there is drug and alcohol abuse involved, but often it’s more than that. There is some psychological history, often a suicide attempt involved, or domestic abuse. There may be a disability or a traumatic injury triggering the situation. There is homelessness resulting to the point of a looming health crisis is some parts of our country.

And in many of these cases, the victims may feel they need the opioids to survive.

Who would sign up for this? No one that I know or you know.

Many of these people have families that want to help. The families just don’t know how. Which is understandable. Very few of us have the training to correctly navigate the mental health disorder maze.

Only a few states are dedicating enough tax revenue toward the management of this crisis to provide the services and facilities — non-profit and otherwise — to even scratch the surface of a solution.

In most studies, Pennsylvania ranks in the top 10 in the amount of care, services and aid it provides to those afflicted by opioid abuse and mental health disorders. It’s a mark of how mountainous the problems are that it doesn’t feel like the state is doing nearly enough.

But it’s just as clear taxpayers in this state are stretched to the bone by decades of government wasteful spending and rising costs for other services.

Which brings us to this: The mental health crisis in our country is deserving of a comprehensive federal government effort beyond a check and a network of programs.

There needs to be more. Much more.

Think about it. Mental health challenges and problems exist in Pennsylvania — and Iowa. The tragedies occur in Massachusetts — and Kansas. The tragedies are indiscriminate toward economic standing and they attack diverse groups, though low-income people are the most financially challenged to get the deserved help.

And every tragedy comes with the same debilitating tentacles — an individual is lost, a family is scarred and a community bleeds.

Our federal government — which wastes billions of dollars — needs to redirect that money to more adult community clinical services, more facilities, payments to train more professionals, aid to individuals in need of care and more accessibility to homelessness alternatives.

My daughter, who works tirelessly with a fraction of the population with mental health needs, describes the challenge with each of them this way:

“Giving adequate support allows people to learn how to swim, not merely survive one pill at a time.”

That’s a goal worthy of a national effort to reclaim the lives of 40 million people.

David F. Troisi is retired as the Sun-Gazette editor.


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