Monday, June 30, 2008

Three States Celebrate Progress

As the nation is about to head into the 4th of July holiday, it is an appropriate time to note three new state laws to improve treatment for the mentally ill. Illinois, Louisiana, and Idaho join a growing number of states in improving the ways someone with a severe mental illness can be treated.

Five years in the making, a new Illinois law took effect that allows for early intervention for people with incapacitating symptoms of illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The effort marks years of work by Karen Gherardini who own struggle to get a family member into treatment ignited the change.

Tragedy sparked quick action by the Louisiana governor and legislature to improve that state’s commitment law. In January 2008, 24-year old police officer Nicola Cotton was overpowered while making an arrest to a rape suspect. The suspect shot and killed Cotton with her own gun. The man, who had been in and out of treatment his adult life, was not in treatment or taking his medication at the time of the tragedy, according to his sister. The incident—captured on a surveillance camera—prompted Governor Bobby Jindal and state Sen. Cheryl Gray to push for the change.

Idaho took a giant step forward in April, passing a sweeping reform of its commitment process. The reform also allows courts the option of ordering individuals in crisis to receive outpatient treatment rather than releasing those in need of treatment into the community to await another crisis.

Each of these efforts points to progress than can be replicated in other states.