Mental health in Truckee
Joan Rogers-Toensing first got involved in local mental health issues after moving to Nevada County nine years to find no board and care options for her son, who suffered from schizophrenia.
“Statistics show that one in four families in the U.S. will have at least one member that suffers from a mental illness, or will be impacted by mental illness in some way,” said the retired social worker.
“Our county, just as every other, has a large population that suffers from mental illness and we need to find ways to provide that population with the resources they need.”
For the last eight years, Rogers-Toensing has been trying to do just that as an active member of the Nevada County Mental Health – Alcohol and Drug Board.
Although based at the complete opposite end of the county, the board is currently making a real push to include the Truckee community, and hopes to start doing so by hosting its next monthly board meeting on Oct. 16 in town.
“This will be our first meeting in Truckee ever,” she said. “The purpose is really to be a fact-finding meeting. We want to get a sense of the mental health needs and concerns for the people of Truckee, as well as share what resources are available to people. It’s really a time for public input.”
Rogers-Toensing said the board is hoping to lure in a representative for Truckee who is willing to serve on the board.
“You don’t need to have a mental health background, only an interest in the mental health field,” she said. “We’re all in the same county. We really want to find ways to work more closely the people and agencies in Truckee.”
The county board – its existence is mandated by the state – currently consists of 11 volunteer, non-partisan members who are members of the public, family and friends of the mentally ill, as well as actual clients of the county’s mental health services.
“We’re really the liaisons between the people of Nevada County and the Board of Supervisors,” Rogers-Toensing said.
The Mental Health Board meets monthly and makes recommendation to the board of supervisors regarding mental health needs and concerns
“We also take on special projects through smaller committees,” she said.
Some of the more recent projects include peer counseling services and a push for clients to take more control over their own treatment.
“A lot of times the doctors are pretty much completely in control of the situation, but we’ve seen a real movement, statewide and nationwide, to get the patients more involved themselves.”
Other issues involved working with those clients that refuse to comply with treatment for whatever reason.
“It’s really about finding humane ways to deal with and help these people, as well as their families and friends,” she said.
The board also looks at issues around housing issues and mental health resources, as well as ways to improve conditions and services for the mentally ill that wind up in the criminal justice system.
“One of the things we’ve done is to come up with a forensic task for that includes law enforcement, mental health professionals, public defenders and the district attorneys office,” she said. “We’re trying to create a better system for dealing with the mentally ill, for instance, how to handle medication and treatment problems with those in the courts and jail.”
The group is also pushing for a special mental health courtroom, with a judge that specializes in that area and takes mental health into consideration.
“Currently, a lot of the time, lawyers and judges are unaware of mental illnesses or how to deal with them,” she said. “We’re trying to promote treatment, not just jail, for the mentally ill. A lot of what we’re doing is both to make sure that all people are treated fairly and humanely, but it’s also to protect the public, as well.”
Among other things, the group provides support for parents and friends of the mentally ill, as well as for clients.
She says that her involvement on the board has been tremendously gratifying, particularly being able to make an impact and improve services for the mentally ill.
“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress,” she said. “There are still holes in the system, but we’re doing what we can to fill those holes.”
A special public meeting of the Nevada County Mental Health Board will be held in Truckee on Oct. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Truckee Town Council Chambers.