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Minnesota's 2014 mental health measures cited as models for other states

In a year when many state legislatures reduced or cut spending for mental health care, a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)  found that Minnesota stands out as having remained strong in its commitment to supporting individuals and families in psychological distress.

The report, titled "State Mental Health Legislation in 2014: Trends, Themes, and Effective Practices," showed that in comparison to 2013, when 36 states acted to restore funding to mental health budgets in reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, 2014 was marked by a reduction in such funding.

Only 29 states and the District of Columbia increased funding for mental health services this year.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia seen as leaders

Minnesota bucked the trend and was highlighted, along with Wisconsin and Virginia, as a leader “in enacting measures that might serve as models for other states in such areas as workforce shortages, children and youth, school-based mental health, employment and criminal justice.”

Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-MN, agreed that mental health advocates in the state saw significant legislative gains this year.

“Even in 2014, which wasn’t exactly the ‘Year of Mental Health’ nationwide,” she said, “in Minnesota we were able to move some very good things forward at the Capitol.”

Highlights of the 2014 session, according to Abderholden, include the creation of an online training on the Civil Commitment Act that will be developed in collaboration with the state Department of Human Services, NAMI-MN and several other nonprofit agencies.

Abderholden also touted the expanded role of the state’s Crisis Response Services.

Ongoing engagement

“We changed some of the intent of our mental health crisis teams,” she explained. “Before, if you had a family member with a mental illness and you called the crisis team, they could come to your house, but if your family member said they didn’t want services, they had to leave. That was where things ended. Now teams can engage a person in voluntary treatment. The crisis team can come to the house more than once to engage that person and work toward treatment. This works better than just one chance encounter.”

Sue Abderholden
Courtesy of NAMI-MN
Sue Abderholden

And in 2014, the state legislature also approved a new transportation program for people in a mental health crisis; it's called a “protected transport” system. 

“Today, when someone is having a psychological crisis, what usually happens is they are handcuffed and thrown into a police car or strapped to a gurney before being taken to treatment,” Abderholden said. “With this new, more humane system, the mode of transport to treatment will be an unmarked car. We just have to go back to the Legislature this year and fund it.”

Abderholden believes that one reason for the state’s success with mental health reform in 2014 had to do with cooperation across party lines.

Reduced stigma in the state

“This is a nonpartisan issue,” she said, adding that in her group’s lobbying efforts, “we’ve worked with both parties. We’ve also had some good leadership at the Legislature on these issues. I’d like to say that we’re reducing the stigma around mental illness in the state, and along with that, lawmakers are becoming more interested in the subject than ever before.”

NAMI-MN’s legislative goals for 2015 include:

Analyzing base funding rates for mental health treatment. “We have a student who is looking at the data,” Abderholden said. “That report will be ready at the beginning of the year.”

Increasing funding for “first-episode” programs. When someone has their first psychotic episode, typically they are given medication and sent home. Abderholden likens this practice to giving someone a cancer diagnosis, handing them chemotherapy pills and then sending them home. “We’d like to upend that policy and say that as a state we are going to provide intensive services and treatment at the first intervention. It is more heavy duty work short-term, but shows much better results long-term.”

Increasing access to crisis services around the state. “We know they work,” Abderholden said. “We just have to fully fund them and make sure that these services are available to everyone in the state.”

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