An important issue that will come before the 2015 legislative session is investing in Minnesota’s mental health system. Ten years ago, we would have said that our mental health system is broken. But not today. We have spent these intervening years using research and creativity to expand and create services that work. Now is the time to fully fund them and make sure that they are available throughout the state and to the extent needed, based on population.
Recently the Department of Human Services identified the core services of our mental health system: mobile and residential crisis services; in-home supports; intensive services such as Assertive Community Treatment Teams and residential treatment; school-linked grants, and supportive housing. They then assessed each region of the state. Areas where services were not available were marked red; areas with available services but not to the extent needed were yellow, and areas with adequate coverage were green. Across the state, even in the metro area, we saw a sea of yellow. This means we have the foundation; we just need to build upon it.
As we look to expand our services, we need to address rates and the workforce. The rates for mental health services have not increased to match inflation. Low rates for providers who serve people largely on public programs leave them in a fragile, unsustainable position. Low rates also lead to difficulty in attracting people to the mental health professions. Currently, nine of Minnesota’s 11 regions have been designated as areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. To expand access to mental health services, we need to pay sustainable rates to support salaries needed to attract more people to the field.
Last, we need to take a holistic approach. People with serious mental illnesses need stable housing, employment and educational supports. By not addressing the mental health needs of the people in our state, we lose out on the talents and gifts of literally thousands of Minnesotans.
As we move through this legislative session, let’s remember the importance of investing in our mental health system. This is not an insurmountable problem — we have the solutions at hand.
Sue Abderholden is executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in St. Paul.