Mental Health/Substance Abuse Policy Initiative March 2012 Blogpost

Since the beginning of this school year, myself and other members of the Mental Health/Substance Abuse policy initiative have been working on a report on the state of mental health in Mississippi. Specifically, the report is focused on identifying the problem areas within Mississippi’s mental health system so that we can begin to help our partner-on-the-ground, the Southern Institute for Mental Health Advocacy, Research and Training (SMHART), improve the mental health outlook of the people of Mississippi. Last semester, we looked through internet resources, data, and scholarly articles to try to identify these problem areas. While this work was fruitful, we realized we will need more if we are going to paint a truly accurate picture of mental health in Mississippi; we need the insights and first hand knowledge of those directly experiencing Mississippi’s mental health system. To obtain this information, SMHART set up focus groups for us to intend with people in Mississippi that have struggled with mental health issues or have children that have struggled with such issues.

Early this month, another student, Stephanie Berger, and myself flew down to Mississippi to help with one of the focus groups. When I flew into Jackson, there were tornado warnings and heavy thunderstorms in the area. But, the storms I experienced upon my arrival could not compare with the figurative “storms” I would hear about the next day occurring on a daily basis in the lives of Mississippians with mental health issues.

At the focus groups, the faceless research the Initiative had done last semester came alive. Reading about barriers to effective mental health services is alarming but it is a completely heart-wrenching experience to hear, first hand, the stories of those struggling to break through such barrier. The people in the focus groups spoke about the reality of their situations in a way that was powerful and informative. We learned about new issues and heard stories that reinforced much of our prior research. Moving forward, these focus groups will be extremely important to our final report, but, even more so, they will be important experiences for me as they reinforced and reminded me of the importance of fighting for justice through organizations such as the Mississippi Delta Project.

– Kevin Golembiewski


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