2017-08-10 / Top News

NAMI speaker focuses on mental illness policy


JAFFEE JAFFEE How to properly manage people who suffer with serious mental illness is a top priority for health and law enforcement officials in 21st century society. The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is bringing an expert to town to discuss the topic.

DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org and author of the book “Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill,” comes to the Hilton Naples from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15. Mr. Jaffe will share his insights about how federal mental health funding is allocated and will outline policy steps he feels the public should champion in order to ensure that communities like Collier County have the resources to treat people with debilitating illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Mr. Jaffe maintains that the standards for which conditions count as diagnosable illnesses have changed so that social misbehaviors, like bullying, now receive more attention and dollars that would be better spent creating treatment programs and services for patients who have more serious mental illnesses.

“We’re wrapping worthy social issues in mental illness and diverting the funds to them,” he says. “There’s massive mission creep, which we should replace with mission control.”

It is the seriously mentally ill who need help the most, he says, adding, “From a community standpoint, they are the ones who are likely to be homeless, incarcerated and victimized. … What I find is that incremental investments rarely go to the seriously mental ill, but cutbacks do.”

The result is that schizophrenia patients, for example, end up in a judicial system that is not equipped to treat them or to provide the means to keep them out of jail. Courts and jails have therefore been forced to create “shadow” treatment programs.

According to research Mr. Jaffe’s organization has gathered, 4 percent of Americans have a mental illness that seriously impedes their ability to provide for their own health and wellbeing. Of that population, 50 percent cannot afford treatment, 16 percent don’t know where to go, and about 8 percent say their insurance doesn’t cover enough treatment.

Mr. Jaffe believes the mental health community itself has isolated patients with severe illnesses and has created a public narrative that claims social stigma prevents people from seeking treatment. He maintains that claim is false and argues that many patients would be willing to enter a program or pursue a medical regimen if they could afford it.

The lack of hospital beds is one barrier to treatment, he says. Another is dollars being allocated to places where there isn’t a problem — such as an outsized portion of suicide prevention funding going to people ages 10-24 when people ages 25-64 are far more likely to suffer suicide.

At his NAMI Collier County presentation, Mr. Jaffe will talk about where money should be spent to better assist the mentally ill in their communities.

One crisis stabilization bed in a hospital costs $292 a day, whereas the average cost for an emergency room visit in Florida is $2,887, he says. The average annual cost for managing a mental illness is $1,551, and a stay in a state psychiatric hospital is $112,000, he adds.

Pamela Baker, executive director of NAMI Collier County, says local officials do the best they can with the small amount of funding they receive to care for the community’s seriously mentally ill population.

“We have a very small amount of funding compared to other states,” she says. “We use evidence based practices as much as possible — and that’s one of (Mr. Jaffe’s) points, that we should only use what works.” ¦

NAMI program

Who: D.J. Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org

When: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15

Where: The Hilton Naples

Cost: Free, but donations to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Collier County welcome.

Info: 260-7300 or www.namicollier.com

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