Moultrie Observer

Local News

January 3, 2012

Wilson voices passion to improve county’s mental health services

MOULTRIE — When it comes to promoting better mental health services, Lynn Wilson doesn’t mince words, nor is she sensitive to being politically correct. She “cuts to the chase” as an advocate and hopes that she can get more people in the community to sign on to her cause.

Wilson is chairperson of the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Healthy Colquitt County Coalition — a partner with the community’s Archway Project.

She notes that Georgia has a “D” on its report card when it comes to providing adequate mental health services — so bad that the U.S. Justice Department keeps an eye on these issues.

She is inspired to her role by the fact that she has a son who suffers from mental illness. She said after he was diagnosed, it took five years for her to move into advocacy.

She said at first, she was a “ship adrift rudder, no sail,” not knowing how to respond.

Now she speaks to civic clubs or anyone who will listen to promote better understanding of mental illnesses and to challenge more advocacy.

“If someone tells you they have breast cancer, you embrace them and ask them what you can do to help. That’s not the case with mental illness ... people back away,” she said.

On Tuesday, Wilson spoke to the Moultrie Rotary Club, briefing a cross section of community leaders on initiatives that are now underway in the Moultrie-Colquitt County community to improve mental health services.

She said four areas of attack have been established by the subcommittee. The first is education. She notes that mental illness is actually a physical illness. She says it’s a neurological disorder that manifests itself in various descriptions of mental illness, ranging from bi-polar to schizophrenia.

“Our mental health system is broken. We need to fix it,” she said.

The fact that the state closed the Moultrie Mental Health Center a couple of years ago helped prompt her to take the chair of this subcommittee. Mental health patients in Colquitt County now have to go to Thomasville or Pelham for counseling and to receive medications. This poses a logistical problem for many patients who simply don’t have transportation. As a result, law enforcement and the hospital’s emergency room are impacted.

It seemed a consensus among those in a question-and-answer session that closing the state facility did not save any money, it only shifted the burden and perhaps increased the actual costs in that process.

Three other areas targeted for attention by the subcommittee are a Judicial Initiative (Mental Health Court, now being experimented with in Albany), clinical needs and funding.

Through Archway, Wilson noted that projects here can have the advantage of grant writers at the University of Georgia, which is a sustaining partner in the Archway Project.

As well, Georgia Pines (formerly the mental health contractor here) indicated that it may be able to send staff here a couple of days a week.

“What we need is a building to house a mental health center,” said Wilson.

Police Chief Frank Lang is a member of the subcommittee, and it’s his officers who often have to deal with mental health issues when they erupt.  Lang suggested that anyone in the community who has family members with mental health conditions to alert the 911 service so that when officers are dispatched to an issue, they will have more information to evaluate and handle the calls.

“This would be a big help to us,” Lang said.

Wilson told the club members that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.

“You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell someone you had heart disease,” she said, noting that this is where the community needs more enlightenment about mental illness.

Wilson is a member of NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) which has a chapter in Albany. Asked why Moultrie doesn’t have a chapter, she said it goes back to the community embracing the seriousness of the problem and launching an effort. She said 4 Moultrians attend NAMI in Albany where a free 12-week course will launch on Jan. 12.

She said that one in four people are impacted by some aspect of mental illness. And she said when you are directly involved in dealing with these issues, “It’s hell. There’s just no other way to put it.”

Wilson said Moultrie needs a core to start a NAMI chapter.

“Change is afoot. Ask how you can be an advocate,” she said. “We’re going to make things happen or we’re going to die trying.”


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