RACINE — Marina Pappas, executive director of the Racine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said that her office’s phone is often ringing. The caller is often a person suffering from a mental illness, seeking a provider who can help them.
She said many of the callers are low-income residents who have Medicaid health coverage and struggling to find a provider who will accept their insurance.
“Like many cities across the country, Racine County is experiencing a shortage in providers, especially those who are able to see individuals on Medicaid,” Pappas said.
Hoping to address issues such as these, NAMI Racine County, along with the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition, is sponsoring a mental health candidate forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, at the Racine YMCA, 725 Lake Ave.
The event is open to the public and will feature Wisconsin legislators and legislative candidates from Assembly districts 62, 63, 66 and 83, and Senate districts 21 and 22.
“National elections for president usually get the most attention, but it is often the people who are elected to the state Legislature and county board whose decisions have the most impact on your daily life,” said Pappas.
Mental health issues highlighted
In addition to accessibility, Pappas hopes to have legislators address other issues that those struggling with a mental illness face.
One such issue is mental illness in children. According to Pappas, mental illnesses affects one in five children ages 13 to 18. She also noted that 50 percent of all mental illnesses emerge before age 14.
“Undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated mental health conditions affect a student’s ability to learn, grow and develop, and the likelihood of school problems, involvement with the criminal justice system, and suicide increase,” Pappas said.
The police, Pappas said, are often a first line of crisis response for individuals with mental illnesses. Because of this, people struggling with a mental illness sometimes find themselves embroiled in the criminal justice system.
According to Pappas, it is estimated that at least 83 percent of jail inmates with mental illness do not have access to treatment. This can create a cycle, Pappas said, that is difficult for a person to overcome.
“Without access to mental health services and supports, many end up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested,” Pappas said. “For most ex-offenders, their prison records remain public and are impediments to employment for the rest of their lives.”
Expanding the mental health workforce in Wisconsin and insurance parity also are topics to be discussed. Pappas said the organization plans to address the issues and ask candidates about their solutions.
Journal Times Managing Editor Stephanie Jones will moderate the forum and pose questions to participants. There is to be an opportunity for audience questions at the end of the forum, as well as voter registration assistance on site.