A steady increase in the number of mental health committals and people seeking treatment for similar issues has Webster County officials wondering what to do to alleviate the situation.
Over the past few years, Sheriff Jim Stubbs said his department has seen an increase in the amount of committal papers it has served.
“It’s been a steady rise over the past few years,” Stubbs said. “But the last two years we’ve seen the biggest increase percentage-wise.”
While Stubbs couldn’t say for sure what has caused the increase in mental health committals, he has a theory.
“From our standpoint, the economy is the major driving factor,” he said. “It could very well be an underlying factor for the committals.”
Another factor is likely substance abuse.
“It’s not just illegal drugs, it’s prescription drugs too,” he said. “Some people might get a pain pill from their friend that they’re not supposed to be taking. The next thing you know, a lot of these people don’t have the means to cope with what comes along.”
Stubbs said society sometimes stigmatizes people in that situation.
Ken Hays, the director of Webster County Community Services, said the changing face of society might also be a factor in why more people are seeking help for mental health issues.
“Our society is very complex, and has gotten more complex with the changes in the economy and the whole substance abuse issue,” Hays said. “Changes in family structure and homelessness are brought to bear and folks who are generally able to manage mental health concerns see those complexities pile up and find themselves in danger.”
That danger can be both towards themselves and other people, according to Hays.
Webster County Supervisor Clark Fletcher, who serves on the county mental health advisory committee, said he believes there’s a connection between substance abuse and mental health.
“They are a co-occurring issue,” he said. “One is usually tied very closely to the other.”
Fletcher agreed that societies’ complexities have contributed to mental health concerns.
“By the time you add in homelessness, unemployment, hunger, medical illness and the lack of medical care, all those issues come together in a person’s life and they feel hopeless,” Fletcher said. “We are more isolated and depend on social networks that are related to technology to provide social support.”
He said those don’t provide the same help as someone seeking advice from a friend or family member.
“People who used to be supported by family are now out by themselves,” Fletcher said. “People just get disconnected.”
Though the numbers of mental health committals are on the rise, there are options available to help those needing assistance.
Fletcher said one way is by regionalizing the county mental health services.
“It’s a pooling of resources to try and be able to provide services for people in rural areas where such services are not available,” he said. “As we regionalize, the communication is opened up and the directors and people in those counties now know who to call and where to get people the services that are provided.”
He added that the regionalization is state-mandated, and that Webster County is part of a 21-county region.
Stubbs said regionalization is a step in the right direction.
“If you regionalize something like that, it’s not one county standing alone,” he said. “It’s several people together.”
Regionalizing also helps with funding.
“Funding’s an issue, but just throwing funding at something won’t solve problems,” Stubbs said. “By being regional, if the funding’s there, it becomes more accountable.”
Hays said another way officials are adapting is by finding alternatives to committal.
“The clerk’s office is the one who takes the paperwork, but if they feel there’s a possibility the individual could voluntarily go to an acute crisis stablization unit, we’ll work with them to make that happen,” he said.
Right now, Hays said officials would like to create a stabilization center in Webster County. That way people can stay near their homes if they want treatment.
“It’s a place they can go if they’re feeling suicidal or if they feel like their lives are in disarray and they need help to figure it out,” Hays said. “The idea is to make those services available in the 21-county region.”