When the news broke recently of a school shooting in Dekalb County, I'm sure each of you joined me in saying a prayer for the safety of the children and employees. Thankfully, in this situation no one was hurt and the individual that was responsible was taken into custody.
I was moved as the story came out about the brave employee that was able to deescalate the situation. Her actions most likely saved many young lives.
This incident is a reminder that we have many individuals that suffer from mental illness in our state.
At this very moment, all across Georgia, we have sheriff's deputies, police officers and other public safety personnel in local communities dealing with individuals at their lowest point, when they are in crisis.
Most of my adult life has been spent working in and managing a law enforcement agency. I have witnessed first hand over and over a system that is designed to intervene only at the point of crisis.
Our system was first developed and designed around a hospital based recovery system and even as we have transitioned to a community based and a home based recovery system, we have not made the necessary changes to allow adequate access to the mental health system in our state.
There are several factors that contribute to people with mental illness not receiving adequate treatment, including stigma, limited public resources, workforce challenges and limited awareness of available services.
Many inmates in our jails and prisons have mental illnesses that have not taken the appropriate prescribed drugs or they have not been regulated properly.
This leads many of these individuals to being incarcerated or finding themselves being treated in a hospital that is not properly equipped to handle those suffering from mental illness.
I recently met with the staff at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville to discuss the issue.
I learned that on any given day at least 10 percent of their emergency room beds are occupied by those suffering from mental illness. These patients are there waiting on a bed in an appropriate mental health facility to become available.
We are faced with numerous challenges in this area. Many of our state mental health institutions have closed over the past few years.
Many of our first responders, those that run our jails and our hospitals, either don't have appropriate resources or are not aware of the appropriate resources to properly treat the mentally ill.
Our state prison system has a large population of those that suffer from mental illness
While in our prisons, they will receive proper treatment and medication. However, upon release they often will stop taking medication or they do not have the necessary resources to stay healthy.
All of us are concerned about the safety of our schools and our communities and we recognize we need to improve this system to help ensure a safer community. However, we must not do any of these things at the cost of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties. It is for these reasons I authored House Resolution 502 this past legislative session.
The resolution created a mental health study commission appointed by the Governor, Lt. Gov. and Speaker of the House to identify ways to improve the system here in Georgia.
I was honored to be selected to be one of the three House members to serve with this important group.
I have worked closely with Comm. Frank Berry of the Department of Behavioral Health and his staff over the past few months.
We are set to begin our meetings and plan to work hard to bring forward positive recommendations by the end of this year. The primary goals of the group will be to improve the mental health safety net across our state, to improve public safety and improve treatment options available to those that suffer from mental illness.
If you have thoughts or specific experience in this area, I would like to hear from you.
I am honored to serve as your representative at the State Capitol, and I look forward to working with each of you to make our state a better place to live, to work and to raise our children.
Rep. Kevin Tanner can be reached at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol (404) 656-0152 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.