WHAT OTHERS SAY: Mental health-law enforcement partnership is bonus for state

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | 1:26 p.m. CDT

An initiative to improve mental health services is both enlightened and cost-effective.

The creation of community health liaisons is a component of Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 program titled "Caring for Missourians: Mental Health Initiative."

Under the initiative, local law enforcement agencies and courts partner with mental health professionals to end a cycle of incarceration by providing access and treatment. In Cole and four other central Missouri counties, the liaison is Ted Solomon of Pathways Community Health.

Law enforcement officials are acutely aware of the revolving door of incarceration for people with untreated mental health disorders.

"Jail has become a repository for the mentally ill in most cases," said Cole County Sheriff Greg White. "And until government gets a hand on the fact that a chemical imbalance is an illness the same as a broken arm is, it will stay that way."

The initiative contains two laudable goals: decreasing societal costs and treating individual mental health disorders.

Debra Walker, a public affairs officer for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, addressed both when she said: "The program is reducing unnecessary jail, prison and hospital stays and improves outcomes for individuals with behavioral health issues."

Solomon also acknowledged that "a big part of the liaison project is to try to save money because it costs a lot more to incarcerate people than it does to treat them."

A greater challenge — for both law enforcement and mental health professionals — is to promote wellness by linking people in need to available resources and treatment.

Incarceration of people suffering mental health disorders is a costly, stopgap response to an ongoing problem.

The liaison initiative joins law enforcement officers and mental health professionals to promote a healthy alternative to the deplorable cycle of incarceration.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.

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