Advocates meet to fight for changes in Alabama’s mental health care system

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- The North Alabama Coalition for Mental Illness is all about inspiring change in the state's mental health care system.

Many of the people in the group are advocates, or in some way affected by mental illness. They began on Facebook, and now, they're having meetings at the Grateful Life Community Church. Their next meeting is on March 15.

Sunday, there were hardly enough chairs for the group that came out to share their concerns, and ideas for solutions.

"This is the grassroots. It's the beginning," said Julie Collins.

Collins is an advocate and has dealt with mental illness personally. She says that's how she knows the problems patients face. She says the recent closure of Alabama Psychiatric Services and other past announcements of closures are only symptoms of larger problems.

"It's time to do something. It's an emergency," she said.

Advocates like Pippa Abston are also on board with the coalition. She says the group has already drafted and plans to gather co-signers on a letter to Alabama's Attorney General to clarify outpatient commitment laws.

"We need him to clarify that they're supposed to be used, how they're supposed to be used, if there's any questions," said Collins. "It's a big deal! This affects many people and it affects their life."

Now, they're gathering signatures so Luther Strange will take notice. But that's not all they've set their sights on.

The coalition's ultimate goal is to see rapid access to care for those suffering from mental illness.

"Treat it like that-- an illness," said Collins. "When you have a heart attack, you [get] immediate care." She believes the same should apply for mental health.

Abston says the coalition wants the existing laws to be followed. They are also looking for support from legislators, and asking them to craft legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for appeals to the Department of Mental Health. They are also developing a "roadmap" for those who are facing barriers to mental health care to help out other patients.