Mental health services struggle in Huntsville, could get worse after budget cuts

Huntsville
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Advocates warned back in February that we would see an even greater shortage of treatment after Alabama Psychiatric Services shut its doors.

Those who work with the mentally ill say they see a full-blown crisis.

The Madison County Detention Facility’s Lt. Betty Davey tells us, “A lot of the mental health facilities are closing down. Now my officers are going to have to be trained in mental health issues.”

They echo the sentiment across town at First Stop, a resource for the homeless.  First Stop’s Executive Director Clete Wetli shares a story.

“We have one person here that’s profoundly schizophrenic, been arrested multiple times, that really needs to be in a group home. And we’re fighting like crazy to make sure that person gets a bed and gets the treatment that they need,” Wetli said.

Until then, that person will bounce back and forth from shelters to cells.

Wetli notes, “What we’re seeing overall in this state is a real lack of healthcare providers.”

That means making do, and making do isn’t making enough difference for some of seriously mentally ill that filter through homelessness.

Wetli adds, “Typically they’re not violent, but unfortunately all it takes is for someone to have one violent episode.”

As far as Wetli’s concerned, it doesn’t have to be like this, “What we’re really seeing though is that people if they get the treatment that they need, they become stable, and they become productive members of society.”

But that treatment may become even harder to come by. Ever since Governor Robert Bentley announced his intention to seek new taxes to fix Alabama’s budget imbalance, we’ve seen a lot of sparring, especially as chunks of the legislature resist. Without the governor’s revenue proposals, we could see the legislature forced to cut money from state services.

Budget proposals without new taxes already reflect a worst case scenario to them.

“What we don’t want to see happen,” says Wetli, “is another eleven-to-thirteen percent cut to the mental health system.”

He sees mental health care as the key to ending a lot of cycles of incarceration, saying, “It also affects substance abuse treatment. People forget that the mental health department also funds substance abuse treatment, and Alabama is one of the leading states when it comes to prescription drug abuse.”

Mental health services have already suffered greatly over the last half decade at the hands of the legislature.

Wetli concludes, “What we’re doing is creating a big crisis, where we really don’t have to create a crisis.”

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