Kim Palchikoff: It’s the worst time to skimp on mental health resources

Mental Health Awareness Month arrives this year with Nevada facing a crisis it has failed to handle in the past and remains ill-prepared to deal with now.

You don’t need to read reports and statistics on the coronavirus pandemic to know that the millions of Americans without a job, paycheck and a way to survive paints a grim picture in everyone’s crystal ball.

Tens of thousands of Nevadans today are experiencing a range of deep emotions: Depression. Anxiety. Mood swings. Insomnia. Anger issues. Sadness. PTSD. Hopelessness. The list goes on.

People are fighting with spouses over every little thing, especially finances and the fear of becoming homeless. People are lining up to get free groceries. Domestic violence is quickly rising dramatically and there are not enough shelters for victims.

Now medical experts are talking about another pandemic hitting the U.S. and it’s not the second wave of COVID-19 that they predict might return in the fall.

It refers to the widespread, dismal state of Nevada’s and the nation’s mental health, which not only is hitting Americans hard right now, it’s going to be a silent killer for years to come.

A three-month rent- and mortgage-eviction moratorium Gov. Steve Sisolak announced in April doesn’t mean people don’t have to ultimately pay up. It just is postponing the inevitable. Come July, Nevadans who haven’t paid their housing bills are going to have to pony up four months worth of payments, plus pay all their other bills – energy, phone, car insurance. If they can’t pay for housing, an eviction stays on their credit report for six years. Sure, companies nowadays are sounding super nice. Eventually they’re going to want their money.

In Nevada, our residents’ collective mental health is going to get grim. To start, Nevada ranks 51st in 15 categories, according to the national policy organization Mental Health America. The Centers for Disease Control reports point out that suicide is the leading cause of death for Nevadans aged 12-19. More senior citizens die by suicide in the Silver State than any other state in the nation.

And those numbers are going to get worse as time goes on. I’ve spent a lifetime battling my own bipolar disorder. I know what it’s like to live with long term mental health issues; it can destroy a person’s life.

Sisolak has listened closely to his medical advisers on issues from whether to extend the stay-at-home mandate to when to open businesses or how many tests are needed. Now he needs a mental-health advisory committee made up of our state’s behavioral specialists to come up with a plan for how this state is going to cope emotionally with the coronavirus, now and in the future.

First on the agenda: Figure out a way to address Nevada’s mental health without drastic cuts to the Health and Human Services budget which overseas the state's mental health and Medicaid services.

Making dramatic cuts will be like sending someone to work in a meatpacking plant that’s infested with COVID-19. That’s not a plan at all. That is a recipe for human disaster and a perfect plan for increasing the state’s dire suicide rate. To prepare, Nevada should increase exponentially its funding for the Office of Suicide Prevention. That highly important office gets barely more than $500,00 a year in state funding. That’s not enough.

One great step Sisolak has taken recently was to help create the Battle Born Medical Corps, which is designed to recruit health professionals around the U.S. to work in Nevada. They recommended waiving the state’s rigid licensure requirement for practicing health and mental-health professionals who come from out of state. I hope this remains in place forever more, making it easier to recruit new mental-health talent to Nevada. There’s also the State Emergency Registry of Volunteers-Nevada (SERV-NV), for individuals wanting to donate some of their time to worthy projects.

This year mental-health awareness month is a trying time for a lot of people. When it comes to mental health, Nevada is not just a state; it’s a train wreck. Just as Sisolak is putting thought into how to save Nevadans from the coronavirus, he needs to think about how Nevadans are going to cope with what’s going on in their heads before it’s too late.

Kim Palchikoff can be reached at Ideas for mental health column topics are welcomed.


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