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EDITORIAL: Mental health fix needs dollars, collaboration

Gazette - 9/1/2018

Sept. 01--There is a reason national studies have ranked Iowa as the worst state on mental health issues. State leaders and residents determined to reverse this stigma will need to pull the twin levers of change: investment and collaboration.

The good news is first steps are underway.

A law passed this year creates six access centers for short-term crisis care of adults, requires more community-based treatment, and establishes a statewide 24-hour crisis hotline. But it remains unclear how professionals across the state will reach these undeniably necessary goals without a dedicated and consistent funding stream.

Likewise, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order to create the Iowa Children's Mental Health Board, which met for the first time last week. The move was significant because there is no government agency in Iowa responsible for children's mental health, which has made state funding and, in turn, access dismal.

The group joins a long list of similar state initiatives meant to address the children's mental health gap -- including the Children's Mental Health and Well-Being Advisory Committee, created by the legislature in December 2015. Still, the latest set of board members were adamant their efforts would result in change.

We are cautiously optimistic for a few reasons. First, the new board brings together officials from the departments of education and human services. Second, board members offer a strong cross-section of the nonprofit and private sectors -- existing systems that will determine the success or failure of any path forward.

Experience has shown that no one agency, or single level of government can tackle the mental health crisis, much less create a comprehensive children's system.

Partnerships -- between government, nonprofits, the private sector and philanthropic organizations -- are how society can best build solutions to pressing problems, and guard against the vicious and expensive cycle of inaction, according to "A National Imperative," a report by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.

Bringing the force of this research to bear involves the destruction of long-standing silos, a focus on positive outcomes, and changes to perceptions on public investment. It won't be easy, or happen over night.

But having achieved consensus that last place is unacceptable, there's hope true investment will follow.

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