Advocates frustrated over lack of mental health legislation

Advocates frustrated over lack of mental health legislation

Advocates say the mental health crisis must be addressed in order to tackle crime in New Mexico.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As the legislative session wrapped Thursday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she is frustrated because several public safety bills didn’t pass.

However, leaders who help some of the most vulnerable New Mexicans feel the same way – and say the public safety legislation wouldn’t be necessary if lawmakers addressed the root issue.

“In comparison to last year in the Legislature, there were dozens of bills that revolved around mental illness, and this year there were probably around 10 that looked to address it,” said Brandon Estrada, who is on the board for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Estrada says if you try to get an appointment for mental health treatment, you could be waiting six months or even a year.

“If they can’t get that treatment in a timely manner, six months can be the difference between life and death,” Estrada said.

Estrada said there were a couple of successes this session, including bills focused on education and mental health awareness, and one to expand Medicaid reimbursement – but nothing to make a lasting impact.

“If we could address behavioral health or mental illness, we could probably address about 99% of the problems of society, including crime and violence,” Estrada said.

David Burke, the director of Facilities and Programming at Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center, agrees. They offer inpatient treatment and housing for people between the ages of 14 and 21.

“I think we had a huge surplus this year and we had an opportunity to make real change in the mental health and substance abuse field and it just didn’t happen,” Burke said.

Burke said if we’re not helping with mental health resources then the crime problem can’t be solved.

“If the governor does call a special session, it needs to be about mental health,” Burke said. “It needs to be about the dirty, nitty-gritty things we don’t want to deal with.”