Crisis center: Now it's our turn

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Three Kootenai County legislators still couldn't support a bill that would lead to a new mental health crisis center somewhere in North Idaho.

That's OK. All of the Senate and the vast majority of the House did. So did Gov. Butch Otter, who signed the legislation Wednesday. And most importantly, so do the North Idahoans who are best-informed on the subject.

These supporters include physical and mental health experts, police and sheriff's personnel, the Kootenai County prosecutor's office and many others. They know that a center designed specifically to help people in crisis because of mental illness and substance use disorders will provide far more than humanitarian aid to desperate individuals.

According to an opinion piece published last July after North Idaho's application for the first center was denied - Idaho Falls received funding after many members of Region 1's legislative delegation did not support North Idaho's strong bid - there's a staggering cost to taxpayers when this type of crisis intervention is unavailable. The column was submitted by the executive board of the Region 1 Mental Health Board and Regional Advisory Council on Substance Abuse.

In it, the authors noted that suicide attempts in Idaho - ranked 6th in the U.S. for suicide completion - cost $36 million annually. The cost of suicide completions each year is more than $850,000 in medical care alone; it's $343 million in total lifetime productivity lost. But this is clearly about much more than money.

Mental illness will be the No. 2 non-communicable disorder by 2020 with cardiovascular disorders being No. 1 and mental illness surpassing cancer, according to Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization data. Many experts agree that mental illness is a significant, if not the most significant, underlying cause of societal distress, manifest in a multitude of tragic examples. Crisis centers are critical pieces of the overall resources needed to improve the devastating impacts of mental illness at the local level.

"Some may say that a Crisis Center is an entitlement program," the advisory council members wrote. "We see it as a safety net in our community."

So do many of us. As a community, we urge the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to authorize the state's second mental health crisis center to be located in Kootenai County.

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