Our Opinion: Ease ‘critical shortage’ of mental health professionals

We encourage lawmakers to narrow a dangerous gap in the availability of mental health professionals to serve Missourians.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Wednesday he will propose budgeting $20 million in grants for Missouri colleges and universities to train more students to work in mental health fields.

He will ask the legislators to approve his “Caring for Missourians: Mental Health” initiative when they convene in January for their regular session.

A chasm separates supply and demand on mental health issues.

The demand, the number of people who suffer mental health concerns, is enumerated in Lewis Diuguid’s Viewpoint elsewhere on this page.

The supply has been characterized by Nixon as “a critical shortage.” Specifically, the governor said Wednesday, 104 of Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis have been designated by the federal government as mental health shortage areas. No licensed psychiatrist is available in 72 Missouri counties and no licensed behavioral analyst resides in 90 counties. The analysts treat autism spectrum disorders.

In addition, regardless of your opinion on the Affordable Care Act, the federal law is in effect and is likely to increase demand for mental health services. Among its 10 essential health benefits is treatment for mental health disorders, behavioral health and substance abuse.

Substance abuse, homelessness and incarceration are not uncommon among people who suffer mental disabilities.

The tax dollars spent to identify, intercept and treat mental health issues represents a fraction of what is spent to deal with the human and societal consequences of mental illness.

People who never have suffered from anxiety, addiction or depression may have difficulty understanding how debilitating and paralyzing those ailments can be.

We agree with the Viewpoint author that the stigma associated with mental illness must be eliminated through awareness and education. And we concur with the governor that more professionals must be trained to address mental disabilities in Missouri.

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