I want to congratulate The Gazette on publishing its three-part series about the issues of mental health in Colorado. The series makes real what those who live with mental illness and their families have understood and struggled with for years: a fragmented and underfunded mental health care system. Mine is one of those families. We've experienced the problems firsthand: the shortage of psychiatric beds and mental health services, the inadequacies of treatment and the lack of follow through.
The difficulties of getting someone admitted to the hospital during times of crisis lead to overburdened emergency rooms where patients are usually released without treatment. As a result, tragedies occur and people die - most often the people who suffer from illness and become victims of violence. Or they end up in jail, convicted for petty crimes committed during periods of instability. Because they are untreated, they act out, resulting in longer sentences and long stints in solitary. And the homeless you encounter on our streets? About 30 percent have untreated mental illness.
As The Gazette articles so clearly pointed out, these problems cost us all. We're spending huge amounts of money in emergency rooms and on our jails and prisons because we aren't investing in treatment upfront.
I know that the instances that The Gazette reports on are not unique but the norm. As a mental health advocate, I've met many families who are going through what our family has. I've seen them floundering, frustrated, scared and angry. Still, they keep battling to find good treatment for the ones they love. Too often their hopes are dashed by failed meds, incarceration, inadequate treatment and, yes, suicide.
Still, we continue to do battle because we know that those with mental illness can and do succeed. They can live fulfilled lives, working and developing significant relationships. They can find meaning and purpose in jobs, school, volunteerism or other endeavors. They can take their rightful place in our community.
The Gazette's community reporting on mental health has played a huge part in educating us all about what needs to be done and how vital it is to change our approach to mental illness.
So many in Colorado Springs are working to make that happen. On May 20, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Colorado Springs and Food for Thought taking the lead, the final of three Community Conversations about Mental Health will prioritize ideas for an action plan that will be implemented over the next year. (Find information about the Community Conversation and how to participate at: www.facebook.com/mentalhealthbeginswithme) or call NAMI-CS at 473-8477.
The Gazette and many other local organizations are sponsoring these conversations, and hundreds of citizens are participating. We know it takes a community effort for change to occur, and Colorado Springs is stepping up.
Kathy Brandt and her son, Max Maddox, are the authors of "Walks on the Margins: A Story of Bipolar Illness." Kathy is a past president of NAMI-CS. Her website: www.KathyBrandtAuthor.com.