Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mental health courts and activism are topics of conference

WMNF Evening News Friday

By Seán Kinane

Today was the final day of this week’s Mental Health Conference at the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach.

The three-day conference was co-hosted by the Florida Council for Community Mental Health and the Florida Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association.

This morning’s plenary speech was by David Shern, president and CEO of the advocacy group Mental Health America.

A year ago Shern left his tenured position as Dean of USF’s Florida Mental Health Institute because he felt he could be a more effective advocate for people with mental illness from outside of academia. Shern said that his decision had a lot to do with frustration that his nephew Kyle could not receive adequate mental health care.

The title of Shern’s plenary was "Mental Health In America: Where is the Outrage?" Shern feels that the topic of mental health is so important but that people don’t care enough about it.

Shern said that another reason people should be outraged is because the U.S. has the worst mental health in the developed world.

The high rates of mental illness in the United States contribute to the overall healthcare crisis in the country, according to Shern.

One of the meeting’s breakout sessions dealt with Mental Health Courts -- How to provide recovery and hope. Mental Health Courts attempt to take people with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system to get them the care they need.

Ginger Lerner-Wren has been the judge of the nation’s first mental health court since its establishment in Broward County in 1997. Lerner said the purpose of court-based diversion models such as a mental health court was to stop the criminalization of mental illness and there are several questions that can be asked to see if mental health courts are successful.

Judge Lerner shared in David Shern’s outrage and said that motivated her community to form Broward’s pioneering Mental Health Court.

Lerner told the mental health professionals in the audience some of the reasons why she and her coworkers are so committed to the goals of the mental health court.

Lerner said that the rate of repeat arrests of people who have gone through her misdemeanor court is between 9 and 12 percent. Even though the court doesn’t receive funding, Judge Lerner is able to brag about its success.

For more information:

Mental Health America

Broward / 17th Circuit


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