Speaking of Nebraska: Mental Health Reform 15 Years Later

Oct. 10, 2019, 5 p.m. ·

Sheri Dawson, Director of the Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health (left) and Dr. Tim Riley of MidWest Neurofeedback. (NET Nebraska)

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Nebraska has come a long way since major mental health reform in 2004. On this week's episode of Speaking of Nebraska, we look back on the last 15 years of mental health care and what the state is doing to increase access to care in the future.

State lawmakers passed the Nebraska Behavioral Health Services Act in 2004. It was part of a nationwide trend in de-institutionalizing mental health services in favor of community-based care.

The regional centers across the state eliminated psychiatric beds and changed the focus of their care; some critics say communities didn't get the boost in resources needed to make up for the gaps.

Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health Director Sheri Dawson says in looking at mental health reform, it's more about the journey than the destination.

"I do think that there were some great services added as the individuals came out of the regional centers," Dawson said. "There were approximately 400 people being served at that time and now there's 32,000 individuals that are being served in the community."

Dr. Tim Riley is a practicing psychologist at MidWest Neurofeedback in Lincoln.

"There are a lot of services that can be provided and probably should be provided within the community," Riley said. "On the other hand, from my perspective at least, it may look like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and now it's difficult for us to find in-patient services or longer-term residential services for people who may need a higher level of care."

Watch the full episode:

Criminal Justice & Mental Health:

(Data: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Graphic: Scott Friend & Joe McMullen, NET Nebraska)

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An estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are booked into local jails in the United States each year.

NET News Senior Reporter and Producer Bill Kelly has investigated the criminal justice system in the state, including its overlap with mental illness.

He says law enforcement officers are looking for alternatives to incarcerating Nebraskans with mental illnesses, but fewer psychiatric beds means other options are limited.

Suicide has been the leading cause of death in local jails every year since 2000, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. And the suicide rate for jail inmates is significantly higher than for the general population, or even for prison inmates.

Jail populations in Nebraska are growing — the incarceration rate grew 15% from 2006 to 2016, which was the third-highest increase in the nation. Nebraska was one of only 16 states to increase the incarceration rate during that time period.

Coming Up on Speaking of Nebraska:

October 17: Rural drug use with Kirk Dombrowski, Rural Drug Addiction Research Center Director, and Tommy Newcombe, Behavioral Health Region 4 Consumer Specialist

October 24: Future of libraries with JoAnn McManus with the Nebraska Library Commission and Sarah Johnson, Geneva Public Library Director