Mental health advocates in Georgia say lack of access to care is what leads to crises
The Georgia Mental Health Policy Partnership is made up of 14 organizations that represent the majority of Georgia’s mental health and addictions peers, consumers, families, and allies., Jeff Breedlove of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse said.
The 2022 Unified Vision for Mental Health and Addiction Care Transformation in Georgia is part of a multi-year legislative process. Last year, Unified Vision called for better access to mental health care as the state grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Georgia has gone from the absolute bottom to rank 48 in access to mental health care.
AFTER: Georgia improves its mental health rating – on data collected before COVID. But challenges remain
Attention not only from groups associated with behavioral health advocacy, but also from lawmakers, including State House Speaker David Ralston, led to the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act.
Now advocates want more funding to expand programs that have proven effective.
“We need to focus on peer-led, recovery-based programs,” Breedlove said. “Bill 1013 was the beginning, not the end. There’s still work to be done on parity to make sure state agencies interpret it with legislative intent, to make sure we continue to build a peer-led workforce, and to ensure that we work even further on the emergency crisis and response.
The largest provider of mental health services in Georgia is its criminal justice system. County jails and jails are filled with people who haven’t properly provided them with access to mental health care, state Rep. Gregg Kennard (D-Lawrenceville) said last year.
“It can be argued that we are criminalizing mental health,” he said.
A lack of funding means many parts of rural Georgia can’t even afford to be part of a pilot program for responders, Breedlove said.
The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse aims to work with the state to expand the Recovery Community Organizations program, which is an independent, nonprofit organization led and governed by representatives of local recovery communities.
These organizations organize recovery-focused policy advocacy, conduct recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and/or provide peer-to-peer recovery support services.
“We have 40 in Georgia, but 40 isn’t enough to serve 159 counties,” Breedlove said.
About 49% of Georgia high school students reported feeling intense anxiety, 40% said they had experienced depression, and 11% said they had hurt themselves on purpose in the past year, according to the Unified View.
Peter Nunn, board member of the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said three of the fundamental elements of the unified vision are:
- Early identification and prevention
Inadequate provider networks are the top issue for each of these three elements, Nunn said. Insurers’ provider networks are the crucial intermediate step between insurance coverage and access to medical care, but many insurers are reporting an overall shortage in the number of behavioral health care providers in an attempt to excuse their networks. inadequate, Nunn said.
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“This action, however, is nothing more than verbal sleight of hand used by insurers to distract from insurers’ seemingly deliberate breaches of network adequacy obligations,” Nunn said, citing a study by an actuarial firm, which found that children in Georgia are forced out of the network for behavioral health care more than 10 times more frequently that they are forced out of the network for general medical care.
Nunn said it was because insurers had inadequate networks behavioral health care providers for children in Georgia.
“We’re going to be asking the state to expand existing programs in mental health and addictions services that they already know work,” Breedlove said.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers/Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.