Since I have been on the County Council, I have been working toward answering this question “Why are we seeing so many more mentally ill on our streets?” If someone was to define a mental disorder, most people would say schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder. Yet only 1% of adults experience one of these disorders in a given year. A mental disorder runs the gamut from anxiety to depression and mood disorders to schizophrenia, psychotic disorders and personality disorders.
In the last half of a century there has been a movement to transfer people from large institutions into community care. This is a good thing. Helping people to become well enough to be independent and live in the community is the goal of our mental health providers and one that is reached everyday by many with mental disorders. And it takes resources – money – to provide for the care and assistance to help people be successful. Over the last number of years the State has cut funds for mental health by cutting beds at Western State and reducing funds for providers at the local level. Lastly, we have a local responsibility. Most of the State money comes from the Federal government and has “strings” attached to it. It can only provide for certain kinds of conditions and services. That leaves a lot of people that do not fit into those categories. These are people living in our community and on our streets and they need care and shelter.
That’s where we, the County, fit in. We need to determine how we should respond to this growing crisis. Counties throughout Washington have stepped up and have existing programs and services in place to help those with mental health disorders. Pierce County has not stepped up. While other Counties are addressing this crisis, our County Council majority have avoided the crisis, hoping that those with mental disorders will be taken care of by someone else or hoping that they will just go away.
I, along with Council Members Derek Young and Rick Talbert, introduced an analysis of the mental health system in Pierce County in order to support the Pierce County Council in making informed and educated decisions on mental health policy and to help us determine the best response and approach to address this crisis. The analysis will identify needs and gaps in services as well as the programs and resources needed. There will be recommendations and prioritizations. We will have the results in September. There will be presentations to the community. You want answers. This will help get those answers. I want solutions. This will help get solutions. But most of all, this will tell us how we can help those most in need.