Closing a wide gap in Iowa's mental health care

Governor Kim Reynolds signs two bills into laws Thursday morning

Davenport, Iowa - Iowa state leaders are hoping to improve the state's efforts to address adult mental health and youth suicides.

Governor Kim Reynolds put her signature on two bills Thursday morning introducing new reforms.

"It's really primary and the foundation for health and when the legislature put's so much emphasis on mental health, it shows people who are experiencing mental illness that their needs are important," said Richard Whitaker, Ph.D., the CEO of Vera French. 

The mental health law is designed to expand services for adults when it comes to assessment and short-term care with access centers, treatment and continuing care, by expanding the number of assertive community treatment teams and comprehensive crisis services.

The effort is also to provide stronger care to Iowans with long-term mental illnesses.

The state is trying to improve those services after ranking at the bottom in a 2016 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, assessing Iowa's treatment capacity. 

To make that happen, Whitaker said the state needs to put up more funding to develop these services, especially as lawmakers work on the budget.

The law also allows for more information sharing with law enforcement and social services of someone's mental health history.

Whitaker said that makes sure people access the right treatment for their condition. 

"Dealing with this on a day to day basis here in Davenport and in the Quad Cities because law enforcement really needs to have the information necessary to equip them to respond to people in crisis," said Whitaker.

The law focuses its attention on adult mental health, so Whitaker said lawmakers need to look at how to expand services for children and teens. 

On the side of the youth, an effort signed into law Thursday is focusing on addressing suicides among teens. 

The law requires training teachers to recognize some of the early warning signs and how to respond. 

It also tries to strengthen suicide prevention in schools. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those 15 to 34-years-old and third for children between 10 and 14 in Iowa.

That's according to 2017 information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Schools will be required to have this training starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

In addition to noticing the signs, the training will teach the impact of childhood trauma leading to depression and suicide.

It also includes how to handle the aftermath of youth suicide to help students, staff and parents after a loss. 

Whitaker said, "We definitely have a problem, not just in Iowa but all over the country with regard to teen suicides and really, our strategy or our goal should be zero suicides."

Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region Toll-free crisis line 

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