New help for mentally ill is expected

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2010

The new executive director of Mississippi’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said Wednesday that rays of legislative hope are on the horizon.

Bill Kehoe of Jackson should know. His 31-year-old daughter, diagnosed in high school as bipolar with borderline personality and severe anxiety disorder, is one of the nearly 100,000 Mississippians suffering from the disease.

In his new position, Kehoe is close to two pieces of Mississippi legislation that could ease efforts to have a mental patient committed to an institution for help and one that would force the creation of a crisis intervention group to assist the patient or suspect when law enforcement authorities are called.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

On Wednesday, Kehoe told members of the advisory board of the Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Service about the bills in the Legislature, both filed this year, and his daughter.

“She’s been in and out of different institutions over the years and has had a very difficult time with her illness,” said Kehoe of about 15 trips to a mental health facility.

Since then, she has made multiple attempts on her life, including four last year alone. “One almost worked,” he said.

Kehoe, who was public information and public relations director for Mississippi Hospital Association for 10 years, deputy director for programs for the Mississippi Department of Human Services during the Mabus administration and who worked with the Mississippi Health Care Association, said he chose to accept the NAMI position after a “tear-filled” conversation with his daughter, the middle child of five.

His role is to act as a liaison for the mentally ill with lawmakers who can write bills to help people like his daughter.

Millions of Americans, an estimated one in four families, are living with mental illness. Most NAMI members are consumers or are family members personally affected by a severe brain disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or severe anxiety disorders including panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Kehoe said House Bill 1525 would establish uniform, statewide standards for involuntary commitment with the use of a simple one-page form to be used at the beginning of a commitment procedure.

HB 1049 addresses the establishment of Crisis Intervention Teams by county, community health center or law enforcement branch with members trained to identify mentally ill people in crisis situations. The bill allows for a person threatening harm to himself or others to be held as an emergency patient at a licensed medical facility for up to 72 hours.

“NAMI Mississippi had the very best year ever in the Legislature, so far, in 2010,” said Kehoe. “We wanted to make some changes in the commitment procedure, chancery clerk dues, jail diversion and Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement.”

Under HB 1525, a standard $75 filing fee will be set for chancery clerks and total fees incurred in the commitment process will not exceed $400. Also, families are not required to retain an attorney or file a bond.

“The focus of NAMI is to provide advocacy, education and awareness regarding mental illness,” said Kehoe.

NAMI members promote research into causes of and treatments for mental illnesses and battle stigma and discrimination that consumers and their families face.

NAMI was founded in 1979 by 254 people and now has more than 210,000 members in more than 1,200 groups in the United States and its territories.

It has operated in Warren County for 12 years.

Contact Tish Butts at