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.