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19 December 2012

As Nation Renews Focus on Mental Health, ATL Mental Health Board Remains Virtually Vacant

The Newtown, Connecticut child murders still baffles everyone. People remain curious as to why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. Why are twenty-seven children and adults dead? How do we prevent another mass murder from happening in this country?

Some say guns are the problem, and banning the guns is the solution. Others say the decline of mental health care is the problem, and improving the provision of mental health care is the solution.

I'm of the opinion that there are crazy people in the world, and there are evil people in the world. I don't know if the perpetrator of the mass murder in Connecticut is crazy, evil or both. What I do know is that a conversation concerning mental health care started following Newtown's tragedy, but at the local level, there are few people discussing the provision of mental health care in metro Atlanta.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) is the state agency responsible for "providing treatment and support services to people with mental illnesses and addictive diseases, and support to people with mental retardation and related developmental disabilities." These services are administered by six regional offices. Each region features a board, appointed by local county commissioners, charged with "assessing needs and recommending priorities for DBHDD services" in that region.

DBHDD Region 3 consists of six counties in the metro Atlanta area; Clayton, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties. Each county receives representation on the DBHDD Region 3 Planning Board, totaling fifty-four members, but there are plenty of vacancies on the board.

Gwinnett County leads the way with thirteen of its sixteen seats on the board empty. Fulton, with a total of eighteen seats, has eleven vacant. Clayton County features four out of five seats unfilled.

In its 2013 annual plan, the Region 3 DBHDD Planning Board concedes that "the regional planning board should have approximately 60 members charged with planning for BHDD through citizen, consumer, and family input resulting in a written plan that identifies service priorities and feeds into the Department’s budgetary process.

"At present, the Region 3 Planning Board has only 4 members, 3 from Fulton County and 1 from Clayton County, but is actively pursuing meetings with county commissioners to help educate them about the importance of their appointments to this planning board," the Region 3 report reads.

If there is a problem with mental health issues and mental health care in America, and I assure everyone reading this that there is, then the problem is at the local level where county commissioners have failed to appoint individuals to the board purposed with examining mental health care in their communities.

Discussing and debating mental health is extremely difficult when there are not enough people to do the talking. In DBHDD Region 3, there aren't enough people on the board to talk about mental health. And that's a shame.