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How the Marcus Law is Paving the Way for Mental Health Legislation in VA

Apr 1, 2022 | The Mind Itself

Diving into the Mind

On this episode of the Mind Itself, Jim LaGraffee, executive director of Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services joins us to discusses the impact that Virginia legislator has on how mental health is dealt with in crises. Jim has 30 years working with adults with intellectual and behavioral disabilities. He was drawn to community health and community organizations, which is what his current role is focused on. Covering topics that range from the basics of the Marcus Alert, to how there is a major lack of funding when it comes to mental health resources, Jim talks about the growths the state is achieving, along with what could still be bettered.  

Marcus Alert Legislation 

In Virginia, the Marcus Alert Legislation is focused on helping law enforcement deal with mental health crises for a better outcome. Mental illness is often something that people don’t treat like a real illness, and it can result in some high-stress situations.  

The framework of the law is based on Marcus Peters, who had a mental health crisis but unfortunately was tragically killed. This was a wake-up call for law enforcement and with the help of mental health advocates, there is action being taken to respond better to certain situations. This law brings attention to not only those that require mental help but other marginalized communities like those with intellectual disabilities, homelessness, etc.  

By training law enforcement to be better equipped in mental health crises and providing more tools and resources to those that need it, the goal is for better treatment and less incarceration for those struggling mentally. The behavioral health professionals assisting don’t overrule law enforcement, they just aim to assistant and de-escalate.  

Focusing on the Area 

The Marcus Alert Legislation allows for some latitude in the different local communities. Areas will determine what crisis responses will look like in certain areas. There is a wide variety of models for different communities.  

There is funding to place physicians in sheriff’s offices and bringing behavior health first aid responders into situations rather than just the police. There is talk of a regional crisis call center, which would help determine who would take the lead in certain situations where mental illness might be involved.  

However, there is a lack of funding, especially in more rural areas. Virginia falls into the lower third of mental health funding in the country. There is often a lack of space, or lack of beds, for those experiencing a mental health crisis, and people often have to leave rural areas to get the treatment that they need.  

Rural vs. Urban 

Different communities handle and respond the mental health in different ways. Most urban community service boards are part of the local government, so there are more advantages through connections and funding that way.  

More rural areas have less funding and have to share resources over a large area, which can make it difficult for people to get the care they need. Not to mention there are different systems, different databases, and in general, rural areas aren’t used to public services that are readily available.  

Law enforcement in urban areas is more receptive to the Marcus Alert legislation along with other actions to put mental health as more of a priority. Those that are law enforcement in more rural areas often find themselves spending extra time and money, which might make them reluctant to change how they’ve been handling situations. For example, some officers might have to spend the day driving someone across the county to get the help they need from a more rural region.  

The Next Goals  

Despite the impact of working and how mental health is being treated in legislation and handled in law enforcement, there are ways to make it better.  

Right now, Virginia deals with mental health at the crisis point. Instead of focusing on preventing a crisis or getting help beforehand, the law doesn’t intervene until it’s life or death. There needs to be more emphasis on funding and providing resources before individuals hit the breaking point. 

Another issue that is prevalent today is the stigma. Mental illness isn’t a personal failure. It’s not because someone isn’t trying hard enough. It can affect anyone; mental illness doesn’t discriminate and knows no boundaries.  

 

Hosts & Guests

John Whitbeck

Jim LaGraffee

Resources

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