By Amy Hinton
For many years, mental health advocates have complained that mental health policy is made in a vacuum. The tendency is to treat mental health as if it were an island, separate and distinct from any of the other legitimate functions of government. It is not.
Several state agencies, including the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Youth Services (DYS), recently participated in the first phase of a multi-year collaborative strategic planning grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. It gave Alabama the opportunity to explore ways to reduce the number of adults and juveniles with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders that come into contact with law enforcement and the state criminal and juvenile justice systems. The goal is to not only reduce the numbers, but also to improve early identification efforts that would appropriately route persons with mental illness into the correct social service delivery system.
Many state agencies are being forced to deal with mental health issues in much the same way as an entertainer tries to keep multiple plates spinning on sticks during a vaudeville show. This is neither an effective nor efficient use of Alabama’s limited policy and planning resources. The concept of collaborative policymaking regarding mental health issues is relatively new and unfamiliar to most state agency leaders who may feel the issue has little relevance to their particular service area. Nothing could be further from reality. Mental health is an important policy issue that touches every major service area in state government.