Governor McAuliffe puts more emphasis on mental health

In his State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday January 11, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe expanded on the increased spending on mental health he first proposed in his budget last year. 

When he proposed his amendments to the 2016-2018 budget in December, Governor McAuliffe included a $31.7 million dollar expansion on state spending on mental health and substance abuse, according to a press release from the Governor’s office. This includes a total of $17.7 million to provide better service within the state’s existing mental health system.

McAuliffe stated that he wants to use these funds to address overcrowding in state mental hospitals, as well as to provide same day service at community boards and conduct mental health screenings at jails. 

These efforts are a step in the right direction, according to Ruth Cassell, who is the Chief Development Officer here at Family Service of Roanoke Valley

. In an interview with WFXR/Virginia First, she said identifying individuals within the criminal justice system who need mental health support is especially important. Without additional resources, the criminal justice system is not adequately equipped to process these individuals. Mental health screenings of individuals within the criminal justice system could identify individuals who need additional help and reduce instances of repeated offenders.

While this is definitely a necessary step, Cassell expressed a desire for more funding to be put toward preventative services that help individuals before they reach a crisis and end up in the criminal justice system. By spending money on preventative measures, she said in the interview with WFXR, the state could save taxpayer money by identifying individuals who need mental health services and not letting them end up in the criminal justice system in the first place. 

The governor also proposed $5.3 million to help combat opioid addiction, which the state officially declared a public health crisis last November. Once the statistics are finalized, there are expected to be over 1,000 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016. 

Finally, there was an additional $4.5 million allocated to assess mental health services across the state. McAuliffe received pushback on this item, with critics pointing out that there is already a Joint Subcommittee in place to study these same issues. McAuliffe defended his budget when pressed, stating that the government itself needs to conduct the evaluations.

Find the full text of Governor McAuliffe’s address here and the original interview with Ruth Cassell here.