North Carolina needs to address mental health


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Mental Health Awareness Week is falling at an unfortunate time this year. Fresh off the nation’s latest mass shooting, we are once again forced in the inane gun control or mental health debate.

Bringing up mental illness in the context of these massacres, as many experts have mentioned, is dangerous because this idea gives a false impression of the mentally ill as a group.

In fact, the mentally ill are more likely to harm themselves than to be harmed by others, according to

That type of association is only one of the main ways that the stigmas around mental illness are perpetuated in ways that make it more difficult for the mentally ill to seek help and for the society to provide.

The news over the summer that Governor Pat McCrory would be establishing a mental health and substance abuse task force was welcome news. This task force will be composed of state leaders and medical professionals who will release recommendations in May 2016.

While it is good that the issue is getting at least some attention, any praise of McCrory on issues of health must be qualified.

After all, this is the man who still refuses to expand Medicaid, despite the fact that the government pays for the majority of the costs.

The refusal to expand Medicaid is causing us to miss out on some important improvements for our mental health system. A December 2014 Roosevelt Institute report found that states that expanded Medicaid had lower rates of uncompensated care and “financial and healthcare relief for vulnerable residents.”

“Mental health and substance use issues are among the most important health issues that we face as a state for the next decade,” Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said at the announcement of the initiative.

Actually, that is the case now, as well. Mental Health America’s 2015 report on mental health in the nation, North Carolina came out looking less than stellar in many categories.

North Carolina was ranked No. 5 for mental health need and No. 30 for mental health access.

We also ranked No. 5 for most adults with any mental illness and adult dependence on drugs and alcohol. North Carolina was No. 9 for adults with serious thoughts of suicide.

So, while mental health may be a challenge going forward, it is clearly something that is affecting us right now.

The answer, of course is to devote resources  to shoring up mental health services and giving greater access.

I hope that the mental health task force will help to improve mental health in North Carolina.

But, even if their recommendations are solid, I am skeptical of any meaningful solutions coming out of our current leadership.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.