The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 14, 2013

Heath issue

Give mental illness the attention it deserves

— As the 2013 session of the West Virginia Legislature begins, issues that affect those suffering from mental illness are expected to be dealt with.

Historically, these issues are ignored by society or simply swept under the rug, to deal with later.

But if there is anything we can do to aid the mentally challenged and their families, we must make a better effort.

It’s one issue we face, but it’s a very important one that addressing properly is long past due.

Currently, there are attempts to alter the way in which the mentally ill are treated by allowing voluntary compliance in treatment rather than being sent involuntarily to a hospital.

A pilot project is being tested in Kanawha, Boone and Lincoln counties. Patients there who otherwise would be institutionalized are allowed to voluntarily undergo treatment for emotional disorders or substance abuse.

Wendy Elswick, assistant attorney general for the Bureau of Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, states that the pilot project has kept 296 people from being committed since 2010.

The existing law says a judge must declare an individual as a threat to himself or society before decisive action is taken.

Sometimes that’s too late.

So as education expands in this field, so should legislation.

Not all that suffer from mental illness are violent, of course. With recent headlines of mass shootings, the brush may be sweeping across much too broadly, yes.

But in the cases of increased chances of violence that may lead to a patient hurting themselves or others, we can’t turn a blind eye either.

Intervening before a violent eruption, hopefully giving the mentally ill an opportunity to get the help they need, is the desired option.

Whatever it takes to accomplish this, must be looked at.

Despite old stigmas attached to mental illness, it’s time to address it properly and informatively.

What’s worked in a few counties can hopefully be expanded into others.

It’s for the good of families and those personally challenged with mental illness all across our state.