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State of Mind: Mental Health and Addiction Task Force Announced

PHOTO: North Carolina is pulling all branches of government together to find solutions to handling the state's population with mental illness and addiction issues. Photo credit: Penywise/Morguefile.
PHOTO: North Carolina is pulling all branches of government together to find solutions to handling the state's population with mental illness and addiction issues. Photo credit: Penywise/Morguefile.
July 23, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. – Mental health advocates are calling the Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force announced by Governor Pat McCrory "unprecedented."

The Task Force aims to bring together all three branches of government to work together on issues related to mental health and addiction.

Jack Register, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says his organization applauds the state's effort – but it now comes down to consistency in their action.

"We've had historic promises of adequate funding for care, and then we consistently see that not follow through," he says. "So I'm really concerned that if this task force does not live up to the charge that it's been given, we're right back to where we've been before."

According to NAMI, North Carolina's public mental health system provides services to 34 percent of adults who live with those illnesses in the state. The N.C. Hospital Association also supports the creation of the task force, noting the state's hospitals had 162,000 behavioral health emergency visits in 2013, which can prove costly for community hospitals and clog up waiting rooms with patients who would be better handled with specialty care.

Register also says a factor in access to behavioral care in North Carolina is, up until now, the state has declined to expand Medicaid. He says health coverage can help people facing mental illness and addiction get consistent care, which he says is key to their recovery.

"When we take a long time with the Medicaid expansion question, people's lives are at risk and folks have to figure out what they're going to do," he says. "Part of what we are excited about with this possibility is that we're going to be able to have decision makers hear directly from us about what the core concerns are."

Organizations such as NAMI have been told they will be asked to provide input to the Task Force to ensure lawmakers have the most up-to-date understanding of the system's current needs, and the best way to help those involved and their families.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC