by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – It’s among the most under reported, yet widespread, challenges in our society today.
The impact of mental illness.
A lack of understanding of the many forms it can take and stigmas associated with the term itself continue to result in residual crises for families throughout Missouri.
A mental health crisis for one person can lead to legal and financial crises for entire families, according to Pat Mobley. He is part of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri’s team and specializes in providing legal aid for those facing mental illness challenges.
Among the situations in which Mobley may be involved are evictions from rental properties and foreclosures when mental illness is a factor in the financial situation.
“For someone with a mental illness to be homeless all of a sudden, that’s going to be a terrible thing for their mental illness and for their mental health outcome. So, if it’s a doctor and a social worker who are helping this person, they may not know what to do to prevent that person from becoming homeless.
“But if I, as an attorney can come in and work with the landlord, work with the landlord’s attorney, if we can provide some social services [such as] link them up with United Way so they can get caught up on their rent, that person is then going to have stable housing and stable housing leads to a better mental health outcome.”
As with all legal aid offices in Missouri, there are income guidelines to qualify for the services. Mobley believes it’s crucial for those who qualify for the services to make contact and use them.
“They are doubly stigmatized. They are low income first of all, so they have limited access to justice because they can’t afford a lawyer. Then someone with mental illness may have trouble understanding exactly what’s going on when it comes to the legal process and they are also going to be taken less seriously if they walk into a courtroom and are symptomatic.”
There are multiple legal aid offices throughout the state and every county is covered with one of them.
Dealing with the effects of mental illness is crucial but addressing the symptoms when they are first displayed is also important. There’s a new push in the state to increase the number of Missourians who are certified in Mental Health First Aid.
It’s the same concept as traditional first aid only, obviously, it teaches how to recognize and address mental health conditions until professionals can work with the person involved.
Jermine Alberty is with the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, working through the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He points out there’s a need for more awareness of mental health issues because we all probably know someone affected by it.
Mental Health First Aid is not designed to diagnose mental health conditions. The purpose is to prevent major crises from happening through early assistance.
“The goal of that whole thing is about help…you teach how to recognize signs and symptoms, teach them how to recognize warning signs and then you teach them how to intervene.”
While mental health issues often only make the news when horrific crimes – like school or mall shootings – happen, Alberty says those who are trained in Mental Health First Aid will likely deal with common and small-scale events.
“If someone started having a panic attack and telling you that they felt like their heart was beating out of their chest or that the room was closing in, how would you remain comfortable enough to help that person?”
While personal crises are just that; personal, Alberty thinks there’s a long-term benefit to the entire state if more people become Mental Health First Aid certified.
“If we had [mental health] first aid in the community and intervened early, we would have many people who would hopefully not go on to develop serious mental illness.”
On the web:
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: http://www.lsem.org/
Mental Health First Aid – Missouri: http://mhfamissouri.org/
Missouri Institute of Mental Health: https://www.mimh.edu/