Mental health advocates hope to build on the gains of last session

Former Georgia House Speaker David Ralston turns to his wife Sheree Ralston as the House votes for final passage of a sweeping mental health bill in March 2022. Ralston, who died in November 2022, spearheaded mental health reform in the state. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

A coalition of mental and behavioral health advocates petitioned lawmakers for the 32nd Annual Mental Health Day at the Capitol to raise awareness about mental health and to advocate for policies that improve the lives of people living with mental illness.

The group of over twenty advocacy organizations serving people affected by mental health has declared 2023 to be “The Year of the Peer.” This comes after the success of 2022, when the state legislature passed the unanimous, bipartisan Mental Health Parity Act.

Kim Jones is the executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness Georgia and Jeff Breedlove is chief of policy for the Georgia Council for Recovery. They spoke with WABE’s “All Things Considered” following the day at the capitol.

Breedlove says the workforce is one area in need of peer-led solutions. According to the groups, Georgia is ranked 48th among all states in access to mental health care, driven by the inadequate availability of mental health workforce.

“That is a workforce that has peers involved, that’s peer friendly and that has the funding that’s keeping up with the increase in the medical cases that are arising in behavioral health post-COVID,” said Breedlove.

Advocates say their priorities for the legislature also include increasing provider reimbursement rates and broadening early intervention and prevention of mental health conditions.