May is Mental Health Awareness Month

My name is Kate and I’m a student at Tulane.  Over the past few months, I’ve been working with United Way of Southeast Louisiana as a component of my Women’s Legislative Leadership class. As part of my research, I looked at the state of mental health care accessibility in Louisiana and wanted to share my findings as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month.

In Louisiana, 183,000 adults and 49,000 children live with serious mental health conditions. The state’s public mental health system provides care to 17 percent of those affected.  Only 1.2 percent of Louisiana’s overall expenditures go to mental health care.

Louisiana deviates from national trends with how that 1.2 percent is spent. Nationally, states spend about 70 percent of mental health funding on community-based care and 30 percent on hospital-based care. Louisiana uses 30 percent of funding on community-based care and 56 percent on hospital-based care. This is important because many Louisianians rely on public services for mental health care.

The 2015 Mental Health America report ranked Louisiana 47th out of 50, saying Louisiana has a huge unmet need for mental health services due to scarce availability of providers.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals spokesperson Olivia Watkins said that care is improving, noting that the number of providers went from 800 to more than 1,600 in the past six years. 

A few improvements were made in the 2015 legislative session. The following bills were all signed into law last year: Representative Gordon Dove introduced HB301 which increased the maximum periods of involuntary outpatient mental health treatment; Representative Katrina Jackson’s HB 307 prohibits the denial of coverage for inpatient behavioral health services given during an emergency situation; Senator Dan Claitor and Representative Jackson also introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 132 which urges the Department of Health and Hospitals to conduct a study on psychiatric medications and the cost of non-access to those medications.

Only time will tell if improvements will be made to the state of mental health care in Louisiana in the 2016 session. Keep up with our advocacy work to stay up-to-date with the lasting changes that United Way of Southeast Louisiana is making in our community and become familiar with our Teen Crisis Center and additional support available if you or a loved one needs to connect to mental health resources in our area.