CATEGORY: EDT Editorials


Public support for the treatment of mental illness and behavioral disorders makes a life-changing difference for thousands of Mississippians.

The Regional III Mental Health-Mental Retardation Commission, which serves most of Northeast Mississippi, is the oldest program of its kind in the state. It was the first regional commission formed, in 1968, after passage of enabling legislation in 1966. Its immensely positive work covers a range from after-care for formerly hospitalized mental patients to chemical dependency recovery programs.

Region III officials, along with others in the state's region-based mental health network, believe that a state-proposed change in local funding requirements could wreck much of what the mental health care system does. We believe the concerns expressed by Region III executive Robin Young, commission members, and county officials deserve the careful attention of legislators and the state Department of Mental Health.

The state department, against the advice of some of its regional leaders, proposes to change the funding formula for counties participating in the mental health treatment program. The change would boost funding by basing tax millage levied for mental health programs on current values rather than on 1982 values. Counties refusing to participate under the new formula would be dropped from eligibility and their citizens would be denied help and treatment. Thousands of people could be denied treatment in Northeast Mississippi if several counties, as Region III officials believe, refuse the proposed state mandate.

There's an argument to be made for increased local participation and support, but a leap like that sought by the state department seems ill-advised. Legislators, working with the principal players (chancery clerks and boards of supervisors, the regional commissions, and the state department) surely can devise a less drastic and potentially destructive plan.

Public support for treatment of mental illness started from virtual ground zero in the 1960s. The work of regional commissions, largely supported by federal and state funds, changed public attitudes about mental illness. It brought people out of the shadows of personal shame and fear into the light of compassion, care and, in many cases, recovery.

Laypersons lead the regional commissions, bringing to their work the insight of involvement in the lives of many communities at many levels. Their counsel should be heeded in matters as important as an unfunded state mandate.

The funding issue, as Lee County Board President Billy Davis noted Monday, goes back to the probability of dramatically reduced levels of federal funding or funding increases. The issues aren't settled, and those who understand the benefit of fully funded federal support for mental health should contact the Mississippi congressional delegation.

Mental health treatment isn't an entitlement, but it has proven a wise investment of public funds from the federal, state and local treasuries. It helps people, and in many cases the results are extraordinarily good.

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