Mental Health in Mississippi

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In the state of Mississippi mental health is a taboo subject that is not spoken about often. Many are unaware of the difficult process that varies by county behind getting the necessary treatment needed for victims suffering from a mental disorder.

The Lafayette County jail is certified to hold mentally ill patients who may or may not be actually suffering any type of mental disorder. Until a doctor is able to evaluate the committed person and deem them clinically insane or sane, they wait in a cell separate from the rest of the inmates, under suicide watch and receiving visits from the jail doctor or nurse practitioner on duty.

“There was one time that it was so crowded, the patient had to wait in the jail for two to three months,” said Chancery Court Clerk Sherry Wall. “But we have nowhere else to hold them because we need to keep them in the least restrictive environment where they are not a harm to themselves or others,” she said.

The process of committing mentally ill patients through the state is not necessarily cohesive throughout the state as a whole. The process varies from county to county. In North Miss., most mental patients are admitted to the North Mississippi Medical Center of Behavioral Health in Tupelo.

In 2014, there were 58 individuals that were committed through the Lafayette County Courts and according to the North Mississippi Behavioral website, “the Behavioral Health Center is a 66-bed free-standing facility located on the campus of North Mississippi Medical Center.” Although the idea is to commit those who actually need help, sometimes, family members can make a false claim. This is the reason why there is a process of medically proving a person is mentally ill.

“There was one case in specific where a couple was going through a divorce and the wife was mad that she did not get everything she wanted in the process so she called the cops on her soon to be ex-husband and said he was insane. He was arrested and taken to jail where he sat until a doctor was able to see him. It then became very apparent that he was not mentally ill and that he did not need any medical attention. This particular case is just one of many. Things like this happen a lot more often than you would think,” Wall said.

While some cases need special attention, in other counties it is their duty to help those who are suffering with a mental illness.

The Union County Sheriff’s Department and D.A.R.E officer of New Albany, Mississippi, Tressa Hester, has had her fair share of encounters with people who have a mental illness.

“It’s not something you want to see happen, but it does, and it’s my job to try and help those people,” Hester said.

“The way we do it now is we’ll get a call, normally it will be a court order from the judge, and we’ll pick up the person and take them straight to Tupelo. It’s much better on them because we don’t want them to think they’ve done something wrong to be sitting in a jail cell. We want them to get the help they need as quickly as possible,” Hester said.

According to Lafayette County records there were 29 mental ill people committed through the Chancery Court in 2010, in 2011 there were 41, in 2012 there were 31 people, in 2013 there were 22 and finally in 2014 there were 57 mental patients committed. It is curious to how the numbers from the past five years seem to skyrocket in 2014. The assumption is because of the increase in Oxford’s population. Each year Oxford has grown in abundance, which also means that there are now more people that are in need of mental health medical attention. It would be hard for 57 patients to all receive immediate attention at the North Mississippi Medical Center with only 66-beds available. Not only is it hard to find a bed for all mental patients seeking help, but it also cost $182.50 to be committed to a treatment facility for 30 days.

Patients already the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, Miss., were observed by a psychiatric nursing class from Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. Danielle Campbell and Tierra Nolan were two of 17 students who traveled to the Mississippi State Hospital on Nov. 18-20. The students were there to study the patients, their mental disorders and the different treatments the hospital gives the patients.

“They (the patients) are put through psychiatric testing, counseling and then they are taught how to regulate their medicine,” Nolan said.

The students talked to several patients and learned how to talk to them, even through the patient’s hallucinations.

“I asked them how their day was going,” Campbell said. “When they had hallucinations, I tried to talk to them and bring them back to our conversations. One of my patients always thought God was talking to him.”

Mental illness is a serious disorder, and it is more common than one would realize. It is important to remember that there are many factors involved to cure the patient is not diseased they are sick.

Lafayette County: Processing the Mentally Ill

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Anyone in Lafayette County, Mississippi who has mental disorders that needs mental attention immediately go to the Lafayette County Detention Center for evaluation before they are allowed to be committed to North Mississippi Medical Center: Behavioral Health.

This is the closest thing to Oxford, and surrounding counties for mental treatment. Every time there is a mental commit that is submitted through the county, the commit has to stay in jail for about two days until there is a free bed at the health center in Tupelo.

“There was one time that it was so crowded, the patient had to wait in the jail for two to three months,” said Lafayette County Chancery Clerk, Sherry Wall. “But we have nowhere else to hold them because we need to keep them in the least restrictive environment where they are not a harm to themselves or others.”

Persons being committed are housed separately from other inmates and go through evaluations to insure they need help. “99 percent of the time, they are repeats,” said Sherry.

This year alone, there have been 58 individuals committed through the Lafayette County Courts and according to the North Mississippi Behavioral website, “the Behavioral Health Center is a 66-bed free-standing facility located on the campus of North Mississippi Medical Center.”

Not only does Lafayette County send their patients to Tupelo, but so do surrounding counties, like Calhoun, Yalobusha, and Pontotoc, which causes overcrowding. In order to help with the overcrowding, Lafayette County Detention Center has been certified to deal with mental patients, so in a case where there is not room in Tupelo, the patients can get the help needed at the Detention Center.

“A prime example of why we hold them in jail, is a few years ago, there was a guy who lived in town with his parents. His parents had him committed to a private facility. He stayed there two weeks, and they sent him home because they said he was fine. He came home, and killed his brother and shot his dad. And that’s why we hold them in jail, but he had never been committed through us,” said Wall.

Once the patients arrive at the detention center, they are examined by a doctor to determine whether or not they need to go to Tupelo for treatment, if they need drug and alcohol treatment, or if they can be released. If the doctor determines that they need medical attention, the people at the Behavioral Center in Tupelo will phone the jail when a bed becomes available. After the police hear from Tupelo, they will notify the patient’s parents or whoever needs to know, to bring fresh clothes and toiletries, and the sheriff will drive them out to Tupelo at around 8:00 the following morning. Once patients arrive in Tupelo, they are treated for about thirty days, depending on the case.

Executive Director of the Mississippi Association of Chief of Police, Ken Winter.

Executive Director of the Mississippi Association of Chief of Police, Ken Winter.

“This is a worst case scenario, last resort kind of situation for the people involved. We know these people are not criminals, and we treat them with sensitivity and respect,” said Executive Director of the Mississippi Association of Chief of Police, Ken Winter.

 

 

 

 

Laura Lindsey Viergever is a journalism student at Ole Miss, and she can be reached at llvierge@go.olemiss.edu.

New Albany: Processing the Mentally Ill

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Tessa Hester, Union County Sheriff's Office.

Tessa Hester, Union County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 61. 5 million Americans experience mental illness in a given year and about 13.6 million live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

There are many state institutions, in Mississippi, that house and help people with mental illnesses such as the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis, East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian, the Specialized Treatment Facility in Gulfport and Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton.

The Union County Sheriff’s Department along with the D.A.R.E officer of New Albany, Mississippi, Tressa Hester, has had their fair share of encounters with people who have a mental illness.

“It’s not something you want to see happen, but it does, and it’s my job to try and help those people,” Hester said.

Hester has been in the Union County Sheriff’s Department for 15 years. Hester helps provide transportation for the patients to and from their doctor’s appointments. Anything beyond that is handled, locally, by the North Mississippi Behavioral Heath Center in Tupelo. She takes pride in helping those in need.

“I want to help these people because, as you can imagine, mental illness is a hard thing to deal with, and I like the way we’ve changed how we have to deal with certain types of situations. It’s easier on us and more helpful for them,” said Hester.

The method used by the Union County Sheriff’s Department was previously set up in a way that if a citizen took out a court order to help a family member that had a history of mental illness, the Sheriff’s Department would pick them up and house them in a cell. Eventually the Sheriff’s Department would call North Mississippi Medical Behavioral Health Center located in Tupelo, MS, an appointment would be scheduled with a doctor, and then the person would wait until a bed became vacant in order for him/her to get the treatment they needed. Now the department has a different method that is easier on the Sheriff’s Department and more helpful to the patients.

“The way we do it now is we’ll get a call, normally it will be a court order from the judge, and we’ll pick up the person and take them straight to Tupelo. It’s much better on them because we don’t want them to think they’ve done something wrong to be sitting in a jail cell. We want them to get the help they need as [soon] as possible,” said Hester.

This new method saves time and money especially because it can be expensive to house these patients in a jail cell. If an appointment is scheduled and a bed is not available, the patient will have to be transported to another facility in another county.

In order to hold a mental ill patient in the Union County Jail, the system has to be up to a certain code.

“Unfortunately, our jail does not meet those codes, but if we had the funds it would be a nice investment to the system,” said Hester. “I like the way the system is set up, and when I see someone who comes to me and says I helped them it makes me feel good; I did my job,” she said.

Fortunately, Tupelo’s facility meets those codes, and in order to get the proper treatment, one has to go through the Chancery Court to take out papers to get the help he/she needs.

“Usually when it’s a referral, the patient goes to the emergency room, they will go to the behavioral center. The patient will automatically be medically cleared if they go through the emergency room,” said Anne Black of the North Mississippi Behavioral Health Facility.

If a person goes through the behavioral center, the patient has to meet certain criteria and if that person does not meet the criteria, they can go to an outpatient facility. There are also intensive outpatient programs that meet up to four times a week that the patient can attend. They will do group management for treatments.

In addition to those treatments, there are personal counseling sessions with qualified counselors, twenty-four hour crisis lines for emergencies for after hour problems and referrals to the appropriate facilities if necessary.

“We are an open facility, and we do what we can to help the patients in need,” said Black.

Although mental illness is a much talked about issue, the real issue is whether these patients are getting the help they deserve. Even though the Union County Sheriff’s Department does not house the mentally ill in their facilities as they did two years ago, they still try to be helpful to these patients with the help of the Tupelo North Mississippi Medical Center as well as other facilities in the state of Mississippi.

Kristin Waldrop is a journalism student at Ole Miss, and can be reached at knwaldro@go.olemiss.edu.