Monday, March 16, 2015

It is time for all of us to respond more vigorously to the mental health crisis in the state of Iowa. 

On Thursday, March 19, the National Alliance on Mental Illness will be at the State Capitol educating legislators about the importance of mental health services and the need for an adequately funded and staffed adult and children’s mental health system. Registration is at 8:30 am and the rally and speakers will be from 9:30-11:00 am.

As I write this, the Des Moines metro area is grieving the loss of two middle school children who committed suicide this past month and the death of a veteran who had requested psychological assistance for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who had been told there would be a several week wait before he could see a counselor. Questions remain as to what more could have been done. There is no question that more should have been done.  

This is just the tip of the iceberg:
•  1 in 4 persons experiences a mental health issue in America1
•  1 in 10 children experience a period of major depression2
•  Approximately 123,000 (4.1%) people in Iowa live with a serious mental illness
     such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression 3
•  Iowa should have a least 1,500 psychiatric beds for the severely mentally ill; we
     only have 7504
•  In the past five years, we have closed 80 psychiatric beds, leaving only 10
     dedicated psychiatric beds in Des Moines for all of Iowa’s veterans5

There are approximately 80,000 youth in Iowa with Severe Emotional Disorder6; in other words, children who have mental illness. The statistics are numbing: 
•  50% of students over age 14 who have a mental illness will drop out of school7
•  70% of youth in the juvenile justice systems have a mental illness8
•  90% of those who die by suicide have a mental illness  9
•  Only 20% of children with mental illness are identified and receive services10 

Iowa is 44th in the nation for number of psychiatric providers per person11. We are short of not only psychiatrists, but psychiatric nurses, psychiatric nurse practitioners and other psychiatric providers. The care of psychiatric patients will not get better until the workforce problem is taken care of. 

We deplore the fact that with the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, we have traded treatment in mental health institutions for warehousing the mentally ill in prisons. There are nearly 3,000 mentally ill inmates in Iowa’s prisons.12 

In 2013, Iowa recorded the largest number of suicides in our state’s history—445. 13 There is a major crisis of care in Iowa. Mental illness affects all of us. We all need to respond.

The United Methodist Church has a strong legacy of responding to the physical and mental health needs of all people. Our model is Jesus who had compassion and healed those besieged by mental illness.

It is imperative that we, in Iowa, as a community which seeks excellence in all aspects of health—physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental—put our best efforts into improving our mental health system. Treatment must be available, timely, humane and affordable.  Therapists and counselors must be present in sufficient numbers so that those who are experiencing a mental health crisis are able to receive prompt attention. Psychiatric beds must be abundant to provide safe places for those who need inpatient care.  Insurance and other funding streams need to be adequate to provide needed services for those with mental illness.

We applaud the workers who provide essential care to those in need. We applaud the redesign efforts of the state to move toward community based (regional) mental health services. We encourage all those who are seeking to provide excellent services. We call upon all Iowans to support financially, spiritually and emotionally the people suffering from the variety of conditions we call mental illness.    

May our witness be helpful to legislators as we all seek to do our part to be compassionate and comprehensive in our care for those who need us the most. Please be a part of the solution on Thursday, March 19 at the State Capitol where we can inform legislators about the dire need for adequate funding and staffing for Iowa’s mental health system. Let us unite in facing this crisis together and rededicate ourselves to excellence of care for all with mental illness.

Be encouraged,


Bishop Julius C. Trimble

1U.S. National Alliance of Mental Health
2National Alliance on Mental Illness Des Moines, National Alliance on Mental Illness
3National Alliance on Mental Illness Des Moines, National Alliance on Mental Illness
4Veterans National Recovery Center for Homeless and PTSD Distressed, Inc.
5Veterans National Recovery Center for Homeless and PTSD Distressed, Inc.
6According to the US Census Bureau in 2013 the population of Iowa was 3,090,416 and in 2011 23.6% of Iowa.
7U.S. Department of Education, Twenty-third annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, Washington D.C. 2001.
8Teplin, L. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 59, December 2002.
9Shaffer, D., & Craft, L. “Methods of Adolescent Suicide Prevention.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60 [Suppl. 2], 70-74, 1999.
10U.S. Public Heath Service, Report to the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A National Action Agenda, Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 2000.
11National Alliance of Mental Illness Des Moines
12Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg - Senate District 33
13National Alliance of Mental Illness Des Moines