Mental health fix rests with us

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When politics trip up and delay the proper funding for mental health services in New Mexico, it’s immoral. More and more, it’s clear that it will be citizens, not politicians or pharmaceutical companies, who will provide (at least the more immediate) help to those who need it.

New Mexico communities have a large number of residents with mental health issues that need professional attention, but access to resources and services is lacking. The lack of services in Taos County and across the state has devastating effects for communities. The statistics are there, but we know it intuitively as well — people are suffering, whether it’s depression, suicide or substance abuse and addiction.

While there are good and well-meaning people in New Mexico politics, attention to mental health concerns continue to lag and be overshadowed by issues like whether we should bring back the death penalty. While some have recognized the issue to the point of using some well-placed Band-Aids, it lies with the citizens to not only continue to put pressure on policymakers, but to do much of the work ourselves.

Mental health issues take many forms, including the enormous substance abuse problem in Northern New Mexico that plagues people of varying backgrounds from kids to veterans, depression issues and their tie to high suicide rates that Taos County has become all too familiar with in recent months.

A bright spot: The pressure by citizens, many from Northern New Mexico, to open access to medical marijuana appears to have been worth the energy. Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, has been on the forefront of the issue with the help of constituents and stakeholders. While legalizing recreational marijuana doesn’t seem possible with Gov. Susana Martinez in office, the pressure to expand growers and dispensaries for medical uses has gained traction. Those who work with veterans in Taos County say it has a direct positive effect for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues to help wean off opioids.

And speaking of Martinez, the behavioral health system has suffered tremendously under her administration. (See Sen. Mary Kay Papen’s “My Turn” in The Taos News for more on that.) Taos saw its Valle del Sol office close recently, leaving residents here with very few options for treatment. Tri-County Community Services works hard with its own funding challenges. Some good news for Taos is the intention of Holy Cross Hospital to assume the lease of the shuttered detox center in town. We urge officials to make the action official as soon as possible.

Students at Taos Academy Charter School and Taos High School have taken action by working on the “See Something, Say Something” teen suicide prevention app. The app would combine real-time crisis intervention with community and social engagement. The app is a national finalist in a Verizon-sponsored contest. The students stand to win funds and the chance to work with engineers to see the app become available to the public.

One of the few stalwarts in the community that spends hours and hours trying to generate revenue through grants and fundraising is Taos’ NonviolenceWorks. The programs and services it provides have helped to fill a huge void in the community, particularly for women and children. Then there are the folks at Golden Willow Retreat and the greater faith community in Taos County who make themselves available for those experiencing homelessness and those struggling in general.

It’s up to us to keep pressure on those who control the purse strings. But we’ve learned we can’t wait for any quick or even not-so-quick fixes from government either.

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