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July 7, 2014 at 6:58 AM

Is Washington’s mental health system working?

In a column last week, David Stone, the president of Seattle’s biggest outpatient mental health provider, sounded a bit defensive. In a Seattle Times guest column, “How to Prevent More School Shootings,”  Stone argued that the community mental health system is not “broken,” but needs some help from lawmakers — tighter control, looser psychiatric commitment laws, and about $50 million more a year.

What does “broken” really mean? By one measure – the number of times people are involuntarily committed – things are getting worse. Up until the last few years, about 5,800 people a year statewide were committed by courts. Since 2011, the trend line has been a  hockey stick: 6,144 in 2011; 6,243 in 2012; 6,555 in 2013. This year we’re on pace for more than 7,000 commitments.

Do those numbers reflect reality for people with mental illness? Please tell me. I’m working on a project, as part of the Rosalynn Carter mental health journalism fellowship, focused on the Affordable Care Act’s potential to improve mental health care. Despite the law’s controversies, it has enormous potential to do good for people with mental illness. Medicaid expansion broadened coverage to tens of thousands of people who likely didn’t have insurance. Parity requirements (ensuring illnesses of the mind are covered equally with illnesses of the body) are finally kicking in for the private market.

Is this an empty promise? Or has the Affordable Care Act made a difference for people with mental illness?

Share your stories in the form below. No story will be published without full consent. Stigma is a serious problem. I’ll try not to make it worse. It is also helpful for me to hear stories not fit for print.

Have you had trouble connecting with a mental health provider? Where do you turn for help? Once you’ve connected, what type of care are you getting? Is the inpatient system as difficult it seems?

The numbers don’t tell the story. People do. Please tell them.

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