Forum discusses mental illness

Published 7:16 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Behavioral problems in children dominated the issues addressed at a forum on mental illness Monday night at Adorned the GlamHouse on Washington Street.

A panel consisting of Constance Anderson-White of Empower Mississippi, state Reps. Deborah Butler Dixon and Kevin Ford, Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Warren-Yazoo Mental Health deputy executive director Don Brown and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield discussed the issues and fielded questions and comments from an audience of about 20 people.

Forum organizer Emmarie Flaggs said the idea for the program came from her experience as a teacher.

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“I had so many students dealing with mental health issues, and a lot of the behavior problems in the classroom (and) nobody simply asked why. Everybody looked at what; nobody asked why,” she said.

She said she developed relationships with her students that allowed her to learn the causes of their behavior.

“What I wanted to do tonight was put together a forum of community unity to provide information for everyone, because if you’re not a specialist in mental health, you don’t know what to do or what to expect,” she said.

Brown said mental health statistics indicate if someone is going to have a mental break, it will occur between 17 and 25 years old.

He said many attempts to deal with youth behavior problems address the symptoms, but not the problem, which could be traced to the environment the child comes from.

“One interesting statistic from a couple of years ago, is 41 percent of the people we deal with (at Warren-Yazoo) are children,” he said. “That’s a staggering amount. That tells us a lot.”

Dickson questioned some of the efforts at correcting or controlling behavior problems.

“People are finding a way to make money off kids,” she said. “Some of the kids may need some discipline, and some may not have a mental health problem. People are not trying to fix the problem.”

Brown said parents and teachers need to look for changes in a child’s normal behavior “based on how they’ve been in the past,” to determine if the child is showing signs of a problem.

“Just see what’s going on with them; who their friends are, what kind of activities.

“It can be so many things,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to know your child and observe them and be involved in your child’s life.”

Medication a last resort

The panelists also urged caution about medication for children. Brown said tests on some children performed by Warren-Yazoo professionals have indicated children are not taking their medication.

He said sometimes people bring children as young as 3 years old to be tested for behavioral and mental problems.

“Our doctors and nurse practitioners will not prescribe medicine for anyone younger than 6,” Brown said. He said if a child under 6 years old comes in, the child might be referred to University of Mississippi Medical Center for a full evaluation.

“Medication,” he said, “Is a last resort, whether it’s a child, adolescent or even an adult. That’s always the last resort.”

The panel was also asked about legislation to help law enforcement and judges deal with people with mental health problems to prevent what one person called “a revolving door” where people with mental health issues are arrested and released.

Ford said the Legislature is spending $223 million toward mental health, adding one thing he has seen is a move toward looking at the causes of criminal behavior.

“Just because somebody’s breaking into the house when they’re 16 years old doesn’t mean they’re a bad kid; it means there’s something else going on,” he said. “He’s doing that for a reason and the reason is what we have to solve.”

Brown said Warren-Yazoo has a program to teach first responders to work with mentally ill people, and there is work to develop a crisis intervention team for the county.

Brown said there has been a move to bring more mental health services into the community, and the state Department of Mental Health has been good to community mental health, but the 14 community mental health programs are not part of the Department of Mental Health.

“So when the funding goes to the Department of Mental Health, it is not funded directly to community mental health,” he said. He said more money needs to be coming to the community programs “so we can provide the support they (people with mental health issues) need.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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