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Legislative commission looks for help with mental health issues

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Posted at 11:21 AM, Jan 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-11 13:21:57-05

A legislative commission met in Billings on Wednesday, aiming for solutions to mental health.

The commission started from House Bill 872 which allocated $300 million to help the behavioral health system.

The commission held its first town hall meeting, to hear from those affected by mental health and those working in the field.

About 70 attended the meeting at the Billings Public Library Royal Johnson Community Room.

Problems with appointments, reimbursements, expenses, and health insurance are some of what the commission learned at a town hall meeting.

"This has to quit being a problem that we just ignore," said Mike Clough.

Clough was one of several who talked about mental health challenges.

He lost his wife to suicide five years ago.

"Didn't see that coming,"Clough said. "She was battling. We thought we were going through all the right processes, but you know, we didn't understand how deep her depression was."

Clough is now a board-certified mental health coach and formed a non-profit called Game Changers.

Sheryl Scheafer has also been dealing with mental health issues for several years and knows the toll it can take.

"And each time I go into a major depression, I go lower," Scheafer said. "And I have the suicide line that I say if I get too close to that line, wow. It scares me."

Schaefer is also a past board president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Billings.

Her advice is to not let the stigma of mental health be a detriment to getting help.

"The only way you can maybe bust the stigma is to speak out," she said. "And that came after I had gotten comfortable with what I was dealing with."

Bob Keenan, the chair of the commission, helped set up the town hall to help solve this growing crisis.

"What we're hearing is really heartfelt, tragic situations in families," Keenan said. "How do we fix that? How do we connect people so that they know when a situation happens in their family? who to call? Who's supposed to respond, and where do you go?

So far, it plans to use $25 million of the $300 million.

It has put $10 million toward workers for residential treatment, $7 million for evaluations, another $7 million for mobile crisis and response, and $500,000 towards crisis worker curriculum.

"And it's not just absorbing or taking money," said Rep. Mike Yakawich, R-Billings. "But it's actually having a positive impact on behavioral health."

And for people like Schaefer, part of the hope is that talking about can help others.

"Part of the stigma busting is that there is a way out and there is a way to live with it," Scheafer said.

The commission will focus on child mental health on Thursday at the Boys and Girls Ranch.