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Help for the mental health helpers
Panel highlights resources for caretakers of mentally ill
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It was a large gathering at the Rockdale Career Academy to hear a panel discussion about all things related to mental illness.

The panel of eight specialists spoke to a group of about 30 caretakers and family members who tend to people dealing with some kind of mental illness.

This "Community Mental Health Summit," was sponsored by Rockdale County Probate Court Judge Charles K. Mays. He spoke briefly at the podium before the discussion started about why he wanted to hold this event.

Often times, Mays said the court and families had issues getting the help they needed from the hospital, law enforcement or housing authority, so the summit was to potentially find additional information that may be useful.

"The idea came to me when we kept getting repeat persons (who) were going through stress and families were going through stress from the problems that they faced when a person in their family had mental illness," he said to the group of more than 30 individuals. "We wanted to find answers and we wanted to come together with professionals like these to see what you as a family member and what we as the court that's responsible can do to aid the citizens of Rockdale."

Dana Reynolds, business development representative for Laurel Heights Hospital in Atlanta, has over 30 years of experience working with adolescents with mental health issues. She was asked how to determine if someone has or might be developing a mental health issue.

She advised it's best to let a mental health professional make that determination because it can very difficult to read all the signs and differentiate the problem a medical issue.

Nyree Jackson, a panelist who has worked in the behavioral health services field for more than 16 years in the public and private sectors, tried to get the audience to understand why a family member with a mental illness might sometimes lash out towards them.

"It' human nature to take out your frustrations and your anger and whatever else is going on within you on the people that are closet to you," she said. "Not to mention, if they don't understand what's going on within them and you're trying to tell them what you believe is going on, it's a power struggle. So you're trying to get them do something or convince them of something that they don't want to accept."

Reynolds elaborated a little more on the situation.

"We know that a person that loves us is going to tolerate so much more," said Reynold. "So, even in a healthy relationship, we tend to beat up on people that are close to us, that love us because we know that they will be tolerant and forgiving."

Panelist Rockdale County Sheriff Office Deputy Jacob Baird answered questions about how families can acquire a 1013 form, which allows somebody who is a danger to themselves or people around them to be transported to a mental health facility involuntarily, he said.

"In order to get that down, you have to go and apply at the Probate Court and it has to be accompanied with a certificate by a physician or licensed social worker saying this person is in need of assistance," Baird said. "At that point, it is up to law enforcement to get that person into custody and to an emergency facility that can do the evaluation and provide treatment as needed."

He also answered a question from a concerned mother who worried about her son, who has a mental illness, being shot by police. Baird spoke about the training officers receive in the training academy and other certifications an officer can receive to handle such a situation.

"I know Sheriff (Eric) Levett likes his officers to be crisis intervention trained. I believe that many of the field operations officers do have that class under their belt. That allows them to perceive the situation and what is indicative of a behavioral problem (and) not necessarily an aggressor towards that officer. There are many situations where an officer may protect themselves if they perceive a threat. However, if the situation is such that they know the person has a mental health or behavioral health problem they can back away from that situation and try to resolve it peacefully."

Baird is heading up a new program for the RCSO that works with adult offenders who have a mental illness. The objective of the program is to reduce the likelihood of the person returning to jail after they're released.

"Unfortunately, jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health facility in the state because over the last one or two decades, mental health facilities have been closing down losing funding," he said. "With that in mind, jails and prisons are working to function as that de facto mental health facility."

Laura Nichols, assistant director of care coordination at Emory Wesley Woods Hospital in Atlanta, discussed state funding for mental health treatment and different organizations people, who may not have health insurance, can join to help them with the healthcare cost.

"Unfortunately, the options are very limited. As everyone knows mental health (funding) has been cut and cut and cut with the administration," she said.

A couple of the organizations she listed for people to go to for healthcare relief cost and support groups included the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Family Caregiver Association and the government health exchanges.

But still, Nichols said "funding is stretched so thin when it comes to caregivers of mental health that, unfortunately, we're alone."

The summit had at least three people from the audience come to a microphone at the center of the Rockdale Career Academy Auditorium and talk to the panel directly.

Mays, who was sitting in the front row of the auditorium for the majority of the discussion, offered to help one of the audience members who was looking for a place to keep her brother, who has a mental illness, during the day while she attended school and work.

"If you would come see me, or Deborah (Anderson), we will help to get you whatever services that you need," he said. "We'll be more than glad to help you and to tell you of the services that we know of within the community."

The program started at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning and ended around 2 p.m. that afternoon.