Mental health and well-being is critical to our communities, our workplaces, our families and our state.
As Governor of Arkansas, I do all I can to improve the quality of life of those in our state. One important gauge of success is our health and access to care and treatment. We are pretty good at recognizing and treating physical health concerns, but we often miss the signs of mental illness, even in those closest to us.
In extreme cases, mental illness can manifest itself in acts that are dangerous to the person or to others. We are learning, however, that incarceration is not the best solution in these cases and can often exacerbate the problem. In March 2018, the first of four Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs) opened in Sebastian County. CSUs are designed as jail diversions for persons in a mental health crisis where they are stabilized, assessed and begin treatment programs. In the first year, the Sebastian County CSU admitted 860 clients instead of taking them to the Sebastian County Jail or an emergency department.
The second CSU opened in Pulaski County in August 2018, where they already have many stories of success. A CSU is scheduled to open in Washington County in June 2019, and the last CSU will open in Craighead County shortly thereafter. When all four CSUs are in operation, they will be capable of treating around 4,800 Arkansans who need mental health treatment instead of incarceration.
The process of admission to a CSU usually begins when specially trained law enforcement come into contact with a person in mental health crisis. Over the last 18 months, 495 law enforcement officers from around the state have received 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to learn how to recognize and deescalate these situations. More than 1,000 veteran officers have participated in an online nine-hour CIT training. All new law enforcement will receive 16 hours of CIT training at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
It is my goal that this innovative partnership between law enforcement, counties and the state will stop the cycle of jail bookings and emergency department visits for those with mental illness. Hopefully, this will also reduce the number of Arkansans that suffer from mental illness in our county jails.
On March 1, 2018, given recent high profile violence in schools, I commissioned the Arkansas School Safety Commission to evaluate school designs, safety and security policies, emergency plans and policies, school counseling and mental health issues. The commission’s final report was delivered to me in November 2018. Among the numerous recommendations included in that report, access to mental health counseling in schools was a priority.
This year, during the 92nd General Assembly’s regular session, I signed into law Act 190, the School Counseling Improvement Act of 2019. Act 190 will allow school counselors to provide regular classroom guidance, individual and group counseling in the school, responsive services to students with immediate personal concerns and interventions for students that are at risk of dropping out of school or exhibiting dangerous behaviors.
The availability of school counselors to devote more of their time working with students is a step in the right direction and is a commitment by the state to create safe learning environments that serve the needs of all students.
Mental health and well-being is critical to our communities, our workplaces, our families and our state. I am pleased to be working alongside many others who are taking steps toward better solutions for those who struggle with mental illness. The Mental Health Guide enclosed is an excellent resource for information about state agencies and private organizations that are committed to helping Arkansans overcome their struggles with mental illness. I trust you will find this guide helpful as we work to ensure the overall well-being of the people of Arkansas.