Mental health care, commitment still difficult to attain in MN - FOX 35 News Orlando

Mental health care, commitment still difficult to attain in Minn.

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The school shooting in Connecticut has fueled a national conversation on the treatment of those who live with mental illness, and there's a growing consensus that we simply aren't doing enough.

The process of civilly-committing a loved one is a heart-wrenching decision that often involves an extremely difficult process. Just like in other debates weighting safety against liberty, the factors are complex and can be painful -- but the discussion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the grossly under funded mental health industry.

Mindy Greiling told FOX 9 News the hardest thing she's ever done in her life was to have her son, Jim, committed after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia 13 years ago.

"In our son's case, we were able to get help because he met the commitment standard, but that's rare," she said.

That isn't to say it was easy. As a state representative, Greiling worked to get legislation passed that loosened the commitment standard, but she told FOX 9 News it's still a tough hurdle to clear.

"The level of commitment is to be dangerous to yourself and others," she explained. "It's all very subjective and usually the state errs on the side of 'you don't meet the standard.'"

Greiling's son is now 35, and is doing much better -- but the involuntary commitment process is still complex and variable. Generally, it begins with a family member calling police or a local crisis management team or by bringing their loved one to an emergency room.

Typically, a 72-hour hold and assessment period will follow, but it usually ends with the patient's release. If a medical professional feels the patient meets the commitment standard, they will file a petition. Then, hearings and a decision will follow -- but that's only for the patients who make it that far.

"We would not say to someone who has cancer, 'Come see us when you hit stage 4,'" said Sue Abderholden, Minnesota's executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "That's what we do in the mental health system."

Abderholden advocates for earlier treatment rather than the decade the average person who suffers from mental illness will wait.

"That's what is so frustrating for mental health advocates, for families, for individuals with mental illness," Abderholden said. "We actually know what works, but we just don't fund it."

Unfortunately, only a part of that problem begins with funding.

"You have trouble getting your insurance to cover it," Greiling confirmed.

Both Greiling and Abderholden said patients receiving mental treatment face discrimination -- and that makes getting treatment even tougher.

Too often, mental illness ends in violence against others or one's self. Each year in Minnesota, there are roughly 500 suicides -- and prisons are increasingly becoming de facto hospitals. Studies show 60 percent of jail inmates and a quarter of prison inmates suffer from mental illness.

Yet, the mental health advocates who spoke with FOX 9 News all emphasized that there is little connection between mental illness and violence. In fact, of those who do get treatment, most get better.

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