Reviewing Alabama’s Policy Efforts to Improve Mental Health

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Closed mental health institution in Alabama | Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Mental health has been a growing concern in our state of Alabama over the past decade. However, despite its growing prevalence, mental health has been pushed aside due to funding issues that came with the Great Recession. This had caused three mental health institutions to be closed. Since 1990, at least 10 total mental health institutions have been closed and with the Great Recession, more were closed.

With mental health at the forefront of our concerns, Alabama’s legislature has been attempting to improve access to mental health care and services in order to support mental health in the state of Alabama. In February 2021, HB 284 was passed, which allows for law enforcement to take individuals into custody if that individual is capable of inflicting harm to themselves or others. Law enforcement will escort them to the care facilities and will have them in custody for 72 hours. There were concerns about the bill regarding the 72 hour hold as well as detaining children. As the bill progressed, changes were made to address these concerns and the bill would not apply to children under 14.

Additionally, another bill was passed where a mental health service coordinator was required for each school district. As of October 2020, 102 Alabama school districts had a mental health service coordinator. These coordinators ensure that students are receiving counseling and other mental health services they are in need of. There is an increasing number of students who are suffering from mental health problems and are in need of proper care. This bill aids, somewhat, with improving mental health for school children.

Another one of Alabama’s growing mental health concerns comes with the increased rates of incarcerated individuals developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Incarcerated individuals are almost 6 times more likely to develop such conditions and jails spend a large sum of money to address this. Rep. Anthony Daniels has been encouraging Alabama counties to adopt the Stepping Up Initiative, which aims to reduce the prevalence of mental health in jails. Currently, 26 counties are involved in the Stepping Up Initiative, including Jefferson County, Mobile County, and Madison County.

As mentioned previously, several mental health institutions were shut down due to a lack of funding. Senator Garlan Gudger proposed a resolution for implementing crisis diversion centers in the state in order to provide facilities where people can go to seek mental health care. This was enacted in May 2020 as Act 2020-86. Medicaid expansion was also suggested as an option to address mental health in the state; however, Alabama is not anticipated to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. For more information on the impact of Medicaid Expansion on Mental Health, be sure to read this article.