Advocates who are in favor of improving Idaho’s mental health and behavioral system say that now is the right time to do so. The new Idaho Behavioral Health Alliance has gone to the state Capitol and has spoken in open forums on numerous occasions about finding ways to make the Idaho Mental Health system better for both adults and children.

In fact, there have been several reforms that have been put in place in regards to the children’s mental health system in the state as a result of the settlement of the lawsuit, referred to as Jeff D., that began in the 1980s. In recent years, lawmakers have worked with these advocates to also make changes to the adult system as well.

One change has been adding mental health centers across the state. This means that if a patient is not able to meet with counselors in Coeur d’ Alene, for example, they can meet with a counselor that is in closer proximity to them. It is also imperative that patients are able to meet with the counselors that are best suited to meet their needs.

Idaho’s Past With Mental Health Awareness And Treatment

According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, or NAMI, there is almost 6 percent of the population that is living with a serious mental health illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia in the state. In addition, the state has one of the largest suicide rates in the United States. On average, the suicide rate in Idaho is 50 percent higher than the average national rate.

Additionally, Idaho is not immune to the opioid crisis plaguing the nation. The increased use of illicit drugs like heroin and the use of opioids has doubled the number of emergency calls, overdoses and deaths in the state since 2011.

So, what has the state been doing to reduce these numbers? 

The state’s statistics on its mental health crisis are truly sobering. Despite the advancements in overhauling the system such as a state ran 24/7 suicide hotline to more crisis centers,  the state still has major coverage gaps. These gaps are more prevalent in rural areas than in larger cities.

There have been many initiatives such as the ones previously mentioned, as well as other programs at the local levels. For example, police officers have partnered with social workers to provide immediate crisis care during emergencies.

Experts from organizations such as Blue Cross, St. Luke’s and St. Alphonsus have stated that the problem will only become worse if the low-income residents of the state are not able to receive the services they need due to lack of insurance. Even those who have Medicaid have noticed changes in the mental health services that are covered by the federal program.

Idaho’s Mental Health Courts

Mental health courts are designed to give people who have committed felonies, but have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, the chance to have their cases heard in a court that specializes with dealing with offenders with mental health issues.

Instead of facing jail time, the judges in this courtroom may decide to sentence the offender to inpatient or outpatient psychiatric care. It is through these patient services that offenders learn the coping skills they need to keep them out of trouble and to help them become productive members of society. They may also be prescribed medications that help them manage their illness more effectively.

Historically, major health systems have placed more importance on physical health than mental health. However, society is changing, and it is important that mental health advocates continue to demand integrated care that pairs physical health with mental health.

Healthcare facilities and providers must shift their philosophy to care that takes into consideration the whole person. By doing this, those who are facing a mental health issue will no longer have to go without service for conditions that can be treated.