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Mental Health Task Force Takes on Red Tape and Training
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A Person with a Mental Illness in Prison

A new Mississippi task force is working to serve families who have loved ones with mental health challenges. As MPB's Desare Frazier reports, the goal is better training and reducing red tape.

Handling mental health emergencies can be a challenge for law enforcement officers according to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.  He says often mental health episodes occur over the weekend, leaving officers with no resources or options except to put people in jail.  Hood says, they are coordinating law enforcement training to help identify those with mental health challenges and provide assistance.

"We're training the officers and the community mental health people together and so the officers have a cell number for somebody in their county, a community healthcare worker. So, they can get the person stabilized and not have a officer involved shooting," said Hood. 

Hood also wants to make the process to commit a loved who needs care consistent statewide. He says fees and filing requirements vary.  A new Mississippi Mental Health task force assembled by the attorney general is taking on those issues and other concerns. Thirty-one agencies including doctors, advocates, judges and law enforcement make up the group. Melody Winston is on the task force. She heads the state's Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services.

"Well increasing assess to services is the most important thing with our bureau. So, anything that can increase the access to services for individuals that need it for drug and alcohol problems would help us," said Winston.

Winston's agency is under the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. The agency has had a number of budget cuts.  Winston says they obtain grants to help them with funding services. Currently they're providing officers with Narcan and training to help those who maybe overdosing from opioids. Attorney General Jim Hood says they are also seeking to cover the costs of some services through Medicaid.