Improving mental health services in Indiana

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, July 10, 2015

As a legislator, one of my top priorities has always been to improve the quality of life and overall health of all Hoosiers. A critical part of our health system is connecting individuals who suffer from mental illness, substance abuse or other psychological issues with the help they need.

Keeping to this commitment, I was proud to support Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 464 this session, which provides greater access to substance abuse treatment for inmates being released from incarceration. As a condition of their parole or probation, individuals may be required to receive additional counseling, detoxification and treatment, to name a few. This new law also requires judges, prosecuting attorneys or public defenders to participate in an education and training program designed to identify the signs of mental illness or addiction. Ultimately, this will allow them to make the best determination if offenders should be placed in the correctional system or other facility depending on their needs.

SEA 464 also establishes the Mental Health and Addiction Forensic Treatment Services Grant, which received an appropriation of $30 million in the state budget. As a result of this funding, community corrections programs and mental health or addiction providers in Indiana will be able to help those struggling with mental health issues.

Similar to reforms under SEA 464, and in an effort to further secure treatment for inmates, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1269 requires the Department of Corrections or sheriff to assist an inmate in applying for healthcare under the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. By connecting them with healthcare services before their release, this law works to keep these individuals out of the system while also getting them the treatment and help they need.

However, substance abuse is not the only mental health concern and these issues often affect Hoosiers at all ages. In fact, 1 in 5 students has some sort of mental-health related issue, and in high school, Indiana has the highest rate of students that have had serious suicidal thoughts. In order to address this alarming trend, HEA 1269 establishes the Mental Health First-Aid Training Program to provide training for Hoosier teachers to better recognize students that might be struggling with a mental or behavioral health concern. Moreover, this law allows school counselors to become licensed mental health professionals, equipping them with the skills to identify and connect students with the mental health services they need.

I look forward to working with my colleagues throughout the interim to raise awareness about the warning signs of mental illness and substance abuse. It is important that we improve the way Hoosiers can access treatment as well as continue to spread the word about the services and facilities that are available to them. As always, if you have any questions about these or any other new laws, please contact me by calling 317-232-9815 or emailing h55@iga.in.gov.

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Rep. Ziemke (R-Batesville) represents portions of Rush, Fayette, Franklin, Ripley and Decatur counties. She serves as Vice Chair of the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee. She also serves on the Courts and Criminal Code Committee and Select Committee on Government Reduction.