Mental health program targets people in crisis
By ELISABETH MURRAY
Whidbey Examiner Staff
September 26, 2012 · Updated 10:35 AM
With her lifelong depression deepening, Hayley turned to alcohol and drugs to numb her pain. Then she tried to bring her pain to a permanent end.
But Hayley’s very serious attempt at ending her life failed.
Now, after weekly counseling and monthly psychiatric appointments, Hayley (not her real name) says she is more content with her life. This vivacious woman has been sober and clean for eight months.
“I was searching for help and I somehow got directed to the Island County Human Services,” Hayley said.
Hayley credits Island County’s Human Services with providing her with the services she desperately needed, but could not afford on her own.
“I had some insurance, but it didn’t cover mental health,” Hayley said.
The good news for people like Hayley is that mental health and chemical-dependency programs in Island County could reach even more people next year as programs and services expand.
Programs under consideration for next year would cost about $230,000, said Jackie Henderson, director of Island County Human Services. Part of that would be $10,000 for a one-time training in crisis intervention for law enforcement and first responders. Services for kids – including early childhood and school- and court-based programs – also would be expanded, she said.
The proposal also would include hiring a half-time mental-health professional who would focus on crisis and emergency intervention. This professional would help stabilize individuals until they can begin to see someone on a regular basis.
Henderson said that she has noticed a shift in the pattern of when people come into the assistance programs. People put off asking for help until they are facing a deep crisis, she said.
The county currently lacks services to help people who are yet not in a crisis that would require immediate, involuntary commitment, but also cannot wait two or three weeks to be seen by a counselor, she said.
“The need is there 24 hours per day, seven days per week,” Henderson said. “The position (even if hired at full-time) would at most cover eight-hours per day, five days a week.”
Since 2006, when the Island County commissioners approved the mental-health sales tax – one 10th of 1 percent as allowed by state law – the county has accrued $1.3 million in reserve for programs dedicated specifically to mental health and chemical dependency. The tax costs a shopper 10 cents for every $100 spent on taxable retail items in Island County.
“The need has always been there, but we did not have the mechanism to fund the programs before,” Henderson said.
And even though people pay a little bit more at the cash register, the sales tax saves Island County residents money by helping people in need from going into crisis, she said.
“If these services are not available, people in crisis could end up in jail, on the streets, or using emergency services,” Henderson said. “Jails and hospitals, especially psychiatric hospitals, are expensive.”
Human Services does not receive money from the county budget, but receives some property-tax revenue for targeted programs such as veterans services, Henderson said. Human Services also receives some state and federal grants for specific programs.
“There are a number of people in our community who are on the verge of having a mental-health crisis,” Henderson said. “Often these individuals are not eligible for publicly funded services and are not always able to access regular mental health services on their own.”
Revenue from the mental-health sales tax is lower than what had originally been projected, likely due to the slow economy. While the county had expected as much as $1 million per year, the tax is bringing in about $750,000. Programs have been phased in over time in order to build up a reserve budget, Henderson said.
The new and expanded programs would also be phased in over the next six months to a year as new staff members are hired, she said.
“Some people think that people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” Henderson said. “But when 10 things are going bad, it is hard to do that.”