Effort to Help Residents with Severe Mental Illness Kicks Off

July 13, 2017

Las Cruces Sun-News

By Diana Alba Souler

An effort by Doña Ana County to help keep people with severe mental health conditions from getting caught in a revolving door of arrests and hospitalization is getting off the ground .

After launching in April, the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, funded by a $2.8 million federal grant, has five clients so far, officials said Thursday during behavioral health summit hosted by the county. And the caseload is expected to grow quickly.

Brian Stettin of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit that pushed for New Mexico state laws authorizing assisted outpatient treatment, told summit attendees the program helps meet a certain need in the mental health system. It serves a relatively small number of clients with big needs who tend to use a disproportionately large share of resources.

“We’re not saying this is a cure-all for everything that ails the mental health system,” he said. The AOT program is aimed at countering a certain condition that people in a mental health crisis can have: the inability to recognize they’re experiencing an illness, Stettin said. And because of that, they fall out of the treatment process, which can lead to a downward spiral in their condition. They often then wind up in the county detention center or involuntarily hospitalized.

“We’re trying to create a pathway out of jail for someone,” he said.

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