Albany nonprofits push for advocacy through mental health legislation
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Over 4 million people in Georgia live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). But local nonprofits are trying to help more people get out of resource deserts with the power of state legislation.
Last year, House Bill 1013 was passed into law. It requires state health insurers to provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders.
“It helps address many, many mental health issues in Georgia and is a great first step to addressing those mental health issues,” said Bill Yearta, District 152 representative.
Now all eyes are on Senate Bill 520, which quickly passed through the House but stalled in the Senate. The bill would focus on funding for supportive housing and address a shortage of health providers which Jeff Breedlove, Chief of Policy Georgia Council for Recovery, said is desperately needed right now.
“We are not addressing behavioral health the way we did COVID. Until everybody from President Biden to Congress, to Governor Kemp, to the General Assembly, to the County Commission here in Dougherty County and the city council in Albany—until we treat this behavioral health issue like the epidemic it is, we’re going to continue to see all the bad numbers go up.”
Those numbers include the suicide rate. On average, one person in the U.S. dies by suicide as a result of mental illnesses, according to NAMI.
“We know that here in the state of Georgia many of those people don’t receive access to mental health care. It usually takes about seven years to get an appropriate diagnosis just the way that the system is set up and it’s not serving the people correctly,” said Kim Jones, Executive Director of NAMI.
They say part of correcting that system is leading more people to the path of recovery.
“You are enough, you can recover, recovery is the expectation,” said Daniel Fleuren, Mental Health Advocate.
Fleuren said his own experience with mental health started at a young age when he turned to drinking and substance abuse. That set in motion a life of crime for him—until he finally sought help.
“We mistakenly look at substance abuse and other mental health issues as a moral failing or something of that nature when it is, in fact, a disease in the brain,” he said.
In South Georgia, mental health resources are limited. Right now, Georgia is ranked 48 for access to mental health treatment. Angela Patterson, NAMI Albany affiliate said the power of legislation and education can change that.
“The more people that we have out and speaking about recovery out loud breaks down the stigma and allows for healing to take place,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing behavioral health concerns, contact the 24/7 crisis line at 988.
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