Tasha Coppinger: Indiana must fully fund mental health care plan

In the fall of 2020 I lived with someone going through a mental health spiral, from clinical depression and, eventually, delusions. He would trash the house, yell, and consistently cross any boundaries I set. Life felt heavy and chaotic at that time; I locked the door to my room at night not knowing what he would do, I missed work, and I didn’t know where to turn.

My roommate finally agreed to seek help after six weeks of intense mental illness, so a friend brought him to the hospital in Bloomington. Despite having experienced delusional psychosis for over a month, they turned him away because he was not deemed to be a danger to himself or others at that moment. He never got treatment.

Two and a half years later, he has three protective orders against him, and sits in the Monroe County jail still awaiting mental health services and now trial.

Unfortunately, this experience is far too common in both Indiana small towns and in our biggest cities. As Hoosier Action’s Morgan County organizer, I speak most days with people in Martinsville and other small Indiana towns where I’ve heard story after story of people struggling to get the support they need in times of crisis.

One in five Hoosiers experience mental illness each year, and for every four Hoosiers treated, one is untreated. Many Hoosiers go untreated through no fault of their own. Wait lines are long for community mental health providers and hospitals turn people away. With nowhere else to go, the struggle only gets worse and Hoosiers turn to the police or call emergency services on friends, family, and neighbors because there doesn’t seem to be any other help available. According to the Indiana Courts, up to 80% of people in Indiana jails struggle with their mental health or substance use.

We cannot keep going like this. This legislative session, Indiana’s General Assembly has the blueprint and the opportunity to transform our mental health infrastructure and make the lives of Hoosier families better.

The Indiana Behavioral Health Commission report released last fall documents the ways mental health impacts Indiana and urges a new system of care that will save lives and money. The report suggests that Indiana creates a full system of care for Hoosiers in times of crisis: someone to call, someone to come to their home for care, and a safe place to go where they can get the support and resources they need.

They suggested we do this by establishing a comprehensive crisis response system using the new 988 calling system, and transitioning from Community Mental Health Centers to Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics as the primary regional model for delivering behavioral healthcare.

After Hoosier Action’s Morgan County Chapter held a town hall in Martinsville with over 100 constituents and President Pro Tempore Senator Rod Bray, these recommendations were elevated to the top priority of the Indiana Senate through Senate Bill 1, a bill championed by state Sen. Michael Crider, and which has now unanimously passed the Senate.

However, the Indiana General Assembly has not yet allocated any funding for this new system. The House version of Indiana’s budget fails to provide the necessary resources to staff it.

Failure to adequately fund Senate Bill 1 would not only leave struggling Hoosiers without a place to go when they need help, it would actually cost the state money. According to the Behavioral Health Commission report, untreated mental illness costs Indiana an estimated $4.2 billion per year through premature death, lost productivity, healthcare costs and incarceration.

The mere $130 million dollars to fully fund the legislation has the potential to save the public over $4 billion dollars.

When I think of my own story and the stories of the people I’ve spoken with, I am reminded that our communities are strongest when we care for each other in our hardest moments. When we experience a crisis, we need to show up for each other in our hardest times with real care.

We need the Indiana General Assembly to show up, choose to side with Hoosier families and fully fund Senate Bill 1.

Tasha Coppinger is a Morgan County community organizer with Hoosier Action, an independent community organization rooted in rural and small town Indiana dedicated to improving the lives of everyday Hoosiers. This commentary previously appeared on indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected]