Marshall County Jail sees high rate of mental illness among inmates
Of all Marshall County Jail inmates, 42 percent are being treated for some form of mental illness. With more mental health patients than beds in Iowa’s mental health institutes, a large number end up in the criminal justice system rather than in a health care facility.
“It’s been an expanding role in the criminal justice system for decades now,” Hoffman said. “We’ve been working to change the culture of the criminal system and law enforcement in particular.”
He said Marshall County is seeing that same trend of the jail becoming an alternative to a mental health treatment center, despite not being designed for that purpose.
As of May 16, Hoffman said 55 of the total 130 Marshall County Jail inmates are being treated for some form of mental illness.
While the sheriff’s office has brought in several programs, trainings and help from Center Associates to treat inmates and continue treatment after their release, Hoffman said it isn’t enough.
He said a new state policy passed into law last year will see dedicated mental health care centers established throughout the state. When they are established, Hoffman said it is important those centers be able to handle patients who may be aggressive or violent.
“The culture needs to continue from the top down, from law enforcement administrators and courts and judges, moving forward with the mindset of diverting people with mental illness from the criminal justice system,” Hoffman said.
Specifically, he said one good idea could be to have alternate options to jail for people with mental illness who commit low-level misdemeanor crimes.
“We’re talking about a disease, and again if somebody has cancer or a cardiac condition, we have empathy and concern for that person,” Hoffman said.
He said the current system often criminalizes or penalizes people for having a mental illness and it needs to change.
Hoffman also said having a good mental health care system would take a lot of pressure off deputies and police officers by giving them a safe place to take people in crises other than a jail or police station.
That means the person in question would get the attention they need while the officer is able to continue their duties.
Hoffman said there is definitely a stigma surrounding mental illness in American society. One of the goals of Mental Health Month is to recognize and get rid of that stigma.
“I definitely think we have come a long way with getting rid of the stigma, but we still have a long way to go,” said Center Associates Licensed Independent Social Worker Kim Hagen. “That can be one of the barriers that stop people from seeking help, they don’t want to be labeled as ‘crazy.'”
Hagen said it is important for someone who feels they may be struggling with mental illness to seek help. A patient’s first appointment with a mental health expert is very important, she said.
“The first appointment is an initial assessment. That’s where we ask a lot of questions about social history, medical history and then we talk about the current systems and functioning.”
An initial treatment plan is also brainstormed at that first meeting. Treatments vary widely depending on which mental illness(es) are affecting the patient, but medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization treatment are some common ones.
Hagen said it is especially important that a new patient is honest when meeting with a therapist.
“We can only base our treatment on what individuals tell us,” she said.
One local woman recently decided that it was time to seek help. Norma Dorado-Robles said it took her some time to decide that she wanted treatment.
“Basically, around the last two years I’ve been dealing with depression,” she said.
Dorado-Robles said she also developed anxiety shortly thereafter.
“I first went to my physician, my doctor, and I told him I was feeling a certain way,” she said. “She started giving me antidepressants, and she recommended for me to start seeing a counselor.”
Dorado-Robles said it was a great decision to seek help.
“I now have better ways to know how to deal with my emotions and my feelings and my thoughts,” she said.
Further complicating her decision to seek therapy was Dorado-Robles’ cultural background. She said the mental health stigma exists for everybody, but is especially strong in Latinx culture.
“In my culture, if you go see a counselor you’re crazy,” she said.
Dorado-Robles said one way to help defeat the stigma is to talk about mental health and mental illness with young children.
“When we don’t specifically talk to youth about it earlier, it becomes a stigma,” she said.
Hagen said Mental Health Month serves as a way to start those important conversations.
“I think the more awareness we bring at trying to normalize mental health, the better we’ll be able to treat people,” she said.