The Georgia Mental Health Policy Partnership is comprised of 14 organizations representing the majority of Georgia’s mental health and substance abuse peers, consumers, their families, and their allies, Jeff Breedlove with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse said.
The 2022 Unified Vision for Transforming Mental Health and Substance Use Care in Georgia is part of a multi-year legislative process. Last year, Unified Vision called for better access to mental health care while the state dealt with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Georgia has risen from the bottom to 48th when it comes to access to mental health care.
A focus not only from behavioral health advocacy groups, but also from lawmakers, including House Speaker David Ralston, led to the passage of the Mental Health Equity Act.
Now, advocates want more funding to expand programs that have proven effective.
“We need to focus on peer-led, recovery-based programs,” Breedlove said. “House Bill 1013 it was the beginning, not the end. There are still things to do equally to make sure that state agencies are interpreting it with legislative intent, to make sure that we continue to build a peer-led workforce, and to make sure for us to work on the emergency crisis and response even further.”
Georgia’s largest mental health service provider is its criminal justice system. Jails and county jails are overflowing with people who have not given them access to mental health care, state Rep. Gregg Kennard (D-Lawrenceville) said last year.
“One could argue that we criminalize mental health,” he said.
A lack of funding means many parts of rural Georgia can’t even afford to be part of a pilot program for responders, Breedlove said.
The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse plans to work with the state to expand the program Community Recovery Organizationswhich is an independent, non-profit organization led and governed by representatives of local recovery communities.
These organizations organize recovery-focused policy advocacy activities, conduct recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and/or provide peer-based recovery support services.
“We have 40 of them in Georgia, but 40 is not enough to serve 159 counties,” Breedlove said.
About 49% of Georgia high school students reported feeling severe anxiety, 40% said they felt depression and 11% reported they had intentionally harmed themselves in the past year, according to Unified Vision.
Peter Nunn, a member of the board of directors of the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said three of the foundational elements of the Unified Vision are:
- Early identification and prevention
- Work force
Inadequate provider networks are the main problem for each of these three elements, Nunn said. Insurer provider networks are the important intermediary step between insurance coverage and access to medical care, but many insurers point to a general lack in the number of behavioral health care providers in an attempt to justify their inadequate networks. Nunn said.
“That action, however, is nothing more than a verbal joke used by insurers to distract from seemingly intentional violations of network adequacy obligations by insurers,” Nunn said, citing a study by an actuarial firm, which found that Georgia children are forced to go out-of-network for behavioral health care more than 10 times more often how many are forced to go out of network for general medical care.
Nunn said this is because insurers have inadequate networks of Georgia Children’s Behavioral Health Care Providers.
“We’re going to ask the state to expand existing programs in mental health and addiction services that they know already work,” Breedlove said.
This story comes to the Reporter / Atlanta Intown Newspapers through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.