Mental Health and Substance Abuse Policy Initiative

Through the Mississippi Delta Project’s newest initiative, students will identify the most-pressing mental health and substance abuse related issues that Mississippi is currently facing. The central goal of the mental health and substance abuse team is to assist Southern Institute for Mental Health Advocacy, Research and Training (SMHART) and other groups with developing policy solutions to key issues.

In fall 2011, students wrote a paper that highlights the general state of mental health in Mississippi with the goal of identifying the state’s core mental health issues. In addition, students had the opportunity to travel to Mississippi and discuss the paper with local Mississippians to determine which issues highlighted in the paper should be immediately addressed. In the spring of 2012, the last  team developed policy recommendations based on the previous semester’s research.

In fall 2012, students developed legislative recommendations based on the recent Department of Justice investigation’s findings regarding the state of mental health services in Mississippi, followed up these recommendations with general legislative lobbying, and developed a cost analysis for strengthening community based services.

In the spring of 2013, students assisted in the development of the first Mental Health Court in Hinds County, the largest county in Mississippi. Mental Health Courts offer an alternative to traditional prosecution for defendants with mental illnesses which focuses on developing a long-term treatment plan with the goal of preventing future encounters with the criminal justice system. We assisted two Hinds County judges in developing an infrastructure, securing funding, and researching best practices in this area.

In fall  2013 we investigated the current use of evidence-based juvenile substance abuse treatment programs, practices, and polices in Mississippi. We prepared a report comparing these programs, practices, and policies with those of similar states to determine which are beneficial and cost effective.

In spring 2014, the Mental Health/Substance Abuse Team will work on two projects.

  1. Using last semester’s paper as a foundation, we will draft a recommendation to the Mississippi Legislature outlining cost-effective ways to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment for youth in the juvenile justice system. This piece will be less academic and more persuasive.
  2. We will research best practices for licensing of psychological treatment professionals with the triple goal of encouraging Mississippi students to pursue these careers, retaining the professionals the state produces, and attracting more professionals to the area. This research will include an overview of the current state of Mississippi’s licensing regime and identifying its problems and a survey of successful licensing regimes in comparable states.