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Mental health stigma dissolving some since pandemic put the issue in the spotlight

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 10:21 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a topic that was once hush-hush but is more frequently part of overall health conversations now.

If there were silver linings of COVID-19, chipping away at the stigma of mental health may well be one of them.

“Society is making it OK,” explained Sitaniel Wimbley, NAMI Mississippi Executive Director. “When you turn on the TV now, they’re saying mental health is everywhere. In the past, there hasn’t been a big push to support mental health across the nation. A lot more people are coming forward and getting help.”

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health said it saw an increase in calls coming into the DMH Helpline and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

From July 1 - December 31, 2020, there was approximately a 66% increase in calls made to the Helpline compared to the same time frame the year prior. There was a 25% increase to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

But the state’s mental health system is still under the microscope by the federal government.

“You can’t keep someone in the hospital,” noted Families as Allies Executive Director Joy Hogge. “Their acute situation might get better but they’re not going to get better in the long run until they’re supported living in the community.”

The feds first alerted the state in 2011, sued in 2016 and then U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves rules in 2019 that the state discriminates against people with serious mental illness.

In the most recent court filings, the state is saying it’s made changes and is fulfilling the requirements for more community-based care. Advocates aren’t buying it.. saying more work has to be done.

“At this point, we are tired of excuses and, at this point, hopeful that the judge in this case will be aggressive and kind of continue to hold the thumb down and say, ‘No, we’re going to continue to make sure and oversee that these changes are being made,’” noted Disability Rights Mississippi Communications Director Jane Walton.

“I’ve seen more services added. I’m not sure I’ve seen the system change a lot,” added Hogge.

A hearing on the remedial plan is scheduled for July 12.

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