By Southwest Times Record staff
It’s important to recognize a silence that surrounds mental health; often, we don’t know a person is suffering unless they choose to talk about it.
It’s also important to recognize the strain it puts on a community as a whole. Fortunately, Fort Smith — from its hospitals to its law enforcement to its homeless campuses — has taken steps that acknowledge mental health is an ongoing issue that affects so many people. Mental disorders can have a direct effect on other issues that plague our area, from a foster-care system that is stretched past its limit to local jails that are often overcrowded. May is Mental Health Awareness month, but an awareness must go well beyond just one month out of the year.
Sebastian County, Arkansas is in the process of securing grants funds for a mental health court, which we believe will function hand-in-hand with the newly opened Crisis Stabilization Unit in Fort Smith. Last year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill to set up procedures and rules for judicial districts to create mental health specialty courts. The goal of House Bill 1663 by Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, was to create courts similar to drug courts where those with mental illnesses can be directed to treatment rather than incarceration. The Mental Health Specialty Court Act of 2017 became law Aug. 1 and aims to reduce recidivism rates using “evidence-based practices of supervision, policies, procedures and practices.”
Boyd has pointed out the direct link between jail recidivism rates and the high number of children in Sebastian County who are in the foster-care system. “It’s going to take a cultural change,” Boyd said last year. “Arguably, the Sebastian County jail is over capacity and, historically, kids have been kept in foster care here longer than any part of the state.”