Advocate Group Says Mental Health Service Funding Erodes As Need Rises

The stabbing of a jogger in a Blendon Township park last fall has brought attention to the mental health system in Ohio.

Jordan Stewart, 16, pleaded guilty to stabbing Jane Juergens in a Blendon Township park on Oct. 20, 2013.

Stewart’s family said the teenager has mental health issues, and after his sentencing Thursday, hope he’ll now get the services he needs.

A mental health advocate group said the funding for mental health services has been eroding for decades, while the need for the services increases.

“Perhaps from this tragedy something good will come from it. Perhaps another child that suffered will be able to get the help that is needed, so they won’t end up in this predicament,” said Marilyn Barksdale, Stewart’s grandmother.

The case finished as Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 483, which makes changes to some of the mental health and addiction funding that will be instead used to treat a rising opiate addiction.

“For people with serious mental illness, we think housing and crisis services are the most important use of state money,” said Betsy Johnson, assistant executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Johnson said there isn’t enough housing for those with serious mental issues, and a new report shows a startling number of mentally ill inmates.

“It is unfair. These individuals don’t belong in that setting, but because there is no other alternative, there is no long-term housing that meets the need for some of these folks who are mentally ill, that is where they wind up,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the number of serious mentally ill inmates will continue to grow because in too many cases they are left to their own devices to get help, and they end up homeless, in prison, or dead.

NBC4 attempted to contact the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus and members of the finance committee about the pending bill that will be heard next week, but received no response.

Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services Director Tracy Plouck testified Thursday that, “In 2009, Ohio’s mental health and addiction system faced deep cuts in the midst of an economic crisis, leaving the system vulnerable. Ohio was unequipped to handle instances of
mental health crisis or the onset of prescription drug abuse that was taking hold.

“We have an opportunity to work together with system partners to identify gaps such as these and respond in a way that makes our system stronger for the future.”

Stewart was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 18 years.

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