It’s time for change, not politics as usual.
As your State Representative:
1. I will work to change the institutional mind-set about mental disorders. I will be a voice to bring more sanity (pun intended) to the way we deal with mental disorders. I will fight to change the political culture. We must stop incarcerating addicts and mentally ill persons. Instead, we must put them in treatment programs and ensure they follow through.
2. I will fight for increased funding for mental health, beginning with diagnosing problems in young people. Many mental disorders go untreated because they are not properly diagnosed. Diagnostics and treatment are expensive; unless someone has good insurance, middle-income and low-income families cannot afford it. We must support affordable community mental health centers.
3. I will support The Affordable Care Act, which mandates that insurance companies treat mental illness like other illnesses. We must ensure, at a state level, that insurance policies provide a sufficient level of coverage for mental illness diagnosis and therapy.
4. I will push legislation to change the way jails and prisons treat prisoners with mental disorders. We must make sure that the mentally ill are given treatment and medication while they are in custody.
5. I will push to increase the number of mental health professionals available to jails and prisons. I would mandate evaluation and treatment of inmates.
I will focus on education for judges to recognize potential mental disorders when an individual appears before them. This would help the judge order diagnosis and treatment during incarceration—even pre-trial.
6. I will prioritize funding for diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. We must find creative ways to pay for them. The cost of inaction to individuals, victims, insurance policy holders and tax payers is far too great to continue ignoring this problem.
Mental illness probably touches as many households as cancer, but it is often not diagnosed and treated. Mental illness and addiction can tear a family apart. Yet, we do not treat mental illness with the same vigor that we treat cancer or heart disease. Despite the heroic and under-appreciated work of our mental health professionals, the system is a failure. We only need to look at Columbine, Aurora, Arapahoe and our packed prisons to see the consequences of that failure.
This issue is personal for me, and I speak from experience. I lost my son in 2006 at age 31 after a long struggle with mental illness and related addiction to alcohol. He was bipolar. Despite his illness, Robert was a highly intelligent, sensitive, caring person who would not hurt a fly, let alone an animal or a person. He worked for the Denver Public Schools as a teaching assistant, caring for children with special needs. He changed their diapers, fed them, played with them during recess, and helped keep them orderly. The children adored him, and he loved them.
He tried to get treatment for his illness, but his insurance didn’t cover it, and his wages were too low to afford $100 an hour. Public health agencies would not help him unless he was a threat to himself or another. So over time he deteriorated.
Finally, he received treatment with the help of a compassionate and enlightened Judge who helped get help from the Arapahoe Douglas Mental Health Services. He spent his final months helping addicts — ones who no one else was able to reach. The counselors came to his funeral and told the assembled that he had a unique gift, an ability to reach people who the system had given up on. My son died because the addiction had ruined his body, but he died sober.
The system failed my son as it fails so many like him. The system treated him like a criminal, not a person with an illness. Addiction is an illness, not a crime. If not treated, it may lead to crime. We must change this.
I was told by a mental health care professional at Denver Health that a very high percentage of the inmates in jail and prison are bi-polar. He said if we treated that disease, we would eliminate so many crimes against person and property. The money we would save on investigating, capturing, trying, and incarcerating these sick individuals would more than pay for their treatment. Prisons are expensive! Crime is expensive!