Published on Sep 15, 2016
The Domenici Public Policy Conference brings policy leaders together to discuss different issues that are important to New Mexico and the Nation. This year’s conference had a focus on mental health reform.
Samantha Sonner spoke with psychiatric researcher and mental health advocate, E. Fuller Torrey.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey specializes in dealing with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“We have the ability to treat them,” Dr. Torrey said. “Reasonably well. We can’t cure them, but we can make their lives much, much better. It’s really quite shocking that we do as poor as we do. Both in New Mexico and most of the other states as well.”
Dr. Torrey said communities with few mental health resources need to prioritize cases.
“One thing they can do is focus on people that are most seriously ill,” Dr. Torrey said. “And who are causing the most problems. There is a group of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, who are in and out of jail that are in and out of homelessness, sometimes become violent. And if you focus on the people who are sickest, you’ll actually find that it saves a lot of money in the long run because these people tend to take enormous resources. We often say that 10% of the mentally ill utilize about 80% of the resources.”
Dr. Torrey says the community members also need to work together to pool limited resources.
“Perhaps the most important step is what we did early this morning,” Dr. Torrey said. “We had a meeting with about 20 people from the community, including people from the jails, people from the service center. They need to get together on a regular basis, probably monthly to get together because no one of them can solve these problems. It’s only if you coordinate these things together that you can start to get on top of it. And unfortunately that hasn’t happened very much. Each of the segments of the community tend to be very separate. They tend to work very independently.”
Dr. Torrey says mental health reform takes strong leadership.
“You’ve got a behavioral health division in the department of health,” Dr. Torrey said. “Which I must say, personally, has had some very poor leadership over the years. If you don’t have good leadership that’s willing to focus on the severe problems it’s not going to happen. So, I would ultimately hold the governor responsible who has to appoint people running the department of health. And if you start to make that a public issue, when they’re up for re-election that should be an issue. How are they doing treating people with severe mental illness.”