Keynote by Governor Janice K. Brewer
Thank you, Jim, and good morning.
And thanks to all of you who work so hard to help Arizonans struggling with mental illness.
I’m proud of the work done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in this state. Mental illness is finally getting the attention it deserves. This means our fellow Arizonans are more likely to receive the care they need before it’s too late.
Before I go any further, I want to say how grateful I am to your organization and everyone in this room for standing with me in support of my Medicaid Restoration Plan. With this plan, we can make certain that more Arizonans receive the care they need for substance abuse, serious mental illness and other behavioral health issues.
Of course the flip side is … WITHOUT my plan, about 2,000 Arizonans with serious mental illness will LOSE AHCCCS coverage at the end of the year when Arizona’s federal authorization expires. We cannot let this happen. We WILL NOT let this happen.
I know you all understand why this issue is so critically important, and I ask that you keep up the fight.Contact your local legislators. Let them know how important this issue is to you, your family and your community.
Now, I think everyone knows what a priority behavioral health has been for me. I believe in limited government. But I KNOW that our government has a responsibility to help the most vulnerable among us. This includes the mentally ill. During a career in public service that has spanned three decades, I’ve strived to educate the public and my fellow elected officials about the positive role government can play when it comes to this population.
Working with NAMI, other advocacy groups and individuals with mental illness, we are changing the face of mental health services in Arizona.
Working together, we are –
• integrating PHYSICAL healthcare with BEHAVIORAL healthcare, and …
• treating the “person as a whole” – mind and body together.
We’re working to educate the public about what mental illness is – and what it is not. And we’re developing new efforts to reduce the incidence of suicide in our state … Every person we lose is a TRAGEDY – a loss that leaves a gaping hole in both the family and community. The philosophy that there is -- “no health without mental health” -- is not new. But historically -- separate systems have treated the body and the mind. Under my administration, we’ve brought them together.
My Department of Health Services and AHCCCS have created priorities for how the behavioral and physical health care systems need to interact in order to most effectively treat the WHOLE person. They’ve created processes to make sure people will have easy access to BOTH mental and physical health care.
There is NO good reason that an Arizona with Serious Mental Illness should die, on average, 25 years earlier … but they DO. That’s not just a shame. It’s a TRAGEDY.
And, often, it’s entirely preventable. With our integrated system, we can help make sure that when someone tells their counselor or psychiatrist about physical illness, pain or diabetes -- that person will be seen by a primary care practitioner.
Previously -- someone may have been ADVISED to see a doctor. But it wasn’t easy. Transitioning to a mindset of “whole-person health” is going to take all of us.
We need a COMMUNITY APPROACH to make sure we’re caring for the mind AND body. We’ve also made progress since I’ve been Governor in public AWARENESS of mental illness. We’ve significantly increased the number of Arizonans trained to recognize the signs of most common mental illnesses. Just as important – more people now know how to INTERVENE before an incident escalates into danger.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case before the tragic shooting that injured Congresswoman Giffords and claimed innocent lives in Tucson in 2011. When investigators began unraveling how this could have happened – we learned that for years Jared Loughner had shown signs he needed help. In the wake of this tragedy, we brought Mental Health First Aid to Arizona.
Now, more than 2,500 people statewide have been trained about mental illness and early intervention. This 12-hour program teaches how to recognize symptoms, how to reach out to the individual in need … and WHEN to call for help. We need those trained Mental Health First Aiders woven into the fabric of our community – JUST like we have done with CPR. It has to be people in EVERY walk of life – from teachers … to church leaders … to friends, family and neighbors.
Another benefit to training people about mental illness is reducing the STIGMA. One of the biggest barriers keeping people from seeking help is the question -- “What will they THINK of me?” That’s a tough perception to fight. But we can change it. Forty years ago, people with cancer spoke in hushed tones and avoided the subject in public.
Today – we have great institutions dedicated to treating cancer. People openly discuss their diagnosis – their treatment and their recovery. Mental illness should be no different! I pray for the day when parents can talk to teachers about mental health concerns without fear of their child being labeled … It’s all about changing the way in which society views and responds to mental illness.
But we’re making progress!
Arizona’s Suicide Deterrent System – which began about the time I took office in 2009 – creates a new culture in the treatment of suicidal individuals. Previously, suicide was considered inevitable. Special teams would handle it. With our system – suicide is NOT acceptable or inevitable. And prevention becomes part of the culture for the ENTIRE behavioral health team … and the whole community. To help the new culture take root, we have to make sure everyone has the tools they need.
A dozen of the largest providers in Maricopa County have committed to train all clinical staff with the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. NAMI also played a large role in developing the Family Engagement training to make sure the safety net is far-reaching. At least four other states have now begun to use our deterrent system as a model to reduce suicide. I think this is worth applauding!
Working together, we’ve made great progress in making Arizona a better place.
• From the integration of physical and mental health services …
• to our efforts to cast a wider safety net for individuals with mental illness …
• to our work in Suicide Prevention.
And don’t forget my Medicaid Restoration Plan. This is likely the most critical single step we can take for Arizonans struggling with mental illness. Our state is known for its strong system of behavioral health. But we know there is more to do. Tragic events like the Tucson shooting underscore the need for early and effective intervention for people with mental illness. We can’t prevent every violent outburst. But, working together, we can ensure more Arizonans get the help they desperately need.
Again, thank you all for being here today …
… for doing such necessary and important work … and for advocating on behalf of a population that rarely has a voice.
I appreciate all that you do.