The mental health crisis is real

By: - February 21, 2007 3:16 pm

Whether Governor Mike Easley wants to talk about it or not, the mental health crisis is real in North Carolina, leaving thousands of people in the state caught in a web of confusion about services and facing hurdles to clear before they receive help for their illness.  Here is a story from the frontlines of the crisis in Wilmington from Mike Glancy, a disability advocate. How long are we going to tolerate this?

Glancy writes:

I was just in the mental health center in Wilmington waiting to talk to a psychiatrist about a client of ours who is seeking Social Security disability benefits  because of severe bipolar disorder; she also has some substance abuse issues, which is not uncommon among those with this condition.

While waiting I was talking further with my client who was also there to see the psychiatrist; she had to see him there because she has no money and the private psychiatrist to whom she was referred under the current mental health system where the mental health center serves as a referral agency or an Local Management Entity (LME) would not see her because she has no money. She also needs to take medications that cost $ 700 per month, which she obviously cannot afford; thank God the mental health center can help her obtain many of them.

She said she wished that old system were reinstated and I agreed; when she said that, another patient who overheard our conversation offered that she is on Medicare and cannot afford the co- pay of $35 to see a counselor and the $ 55 for seeing a psychiatrist at one of these private agencies. It seems that whether or not you have money or insurance there are major financial impediments to obtaining needed mental health care under this current scheme. The psychiatrist I saw added another point: that folks with the mixed diagnosis of bipolar and substance abuse have a high mortality rate and the chief provider of substance abuse treatment does not like to see mixed diagnosis patients.

Has it occurred to anyone in Raleigh that just maybe the old mental health system that provided these services in every county is/was the most cost effective way of providing these services?It is not dissimilar to Medicaid. Neither  were/ are perfect but they work(ed) far better than the alternative."

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066