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Lawmakers launch mental health reforms

Just days after state lawmakers approved “monumental” reforms in Idaho’s approach to treating mental health and substance abuse problems, a troubled young man was driving from state to state, allegedly hunting down and killing former high school buddies from Boise whom he blamed for stealing his “powers.” John Delling, 21, had harassed his Timberline High School classmates for years. He’d been violent; he’d been arrested. He’d been kicked out of the University of Idaho after threatening other students. He’d been ordered into anger management. But Delling’s parents said they never found help for their mentally ill son.

“There was no preventative safety net in place to correct or rein in a potentially serious situation; no legislation, no mental health entity, nor any church-based aid could get a firm handle on this,” they wrote in a letter to the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise. “John was very sick and needed more than this system had to offer.”

Howard Belodoff, a Boise attorney who for 27 years has pressed the “Jeff D.” lawsuit challenging how Idaho treats mentally ill children, said Idaho still is plagued by a system that lacks treatment options in communities around the state for mentally ill youngsters. “Unfortunately, when somebody gets killed it puts a spotlight on it,” he said. “That’s a symptom of the neglect. Get these kids before they get so bad that they’re lost, and they can’t help themselves.”

It’s not just youngsters that Idaho’s mental health system fails. With no “parity” law requiring coverage, most insurers in the state don’t cover treatment for mental illness. State-funded services for the mentally ill or addicted tend to focus on crisis intervention or costly hospitalization. Few options are available for people suffering from both addictions and mental illness, and Idaho’s per-capita spending on mental health treatment is among the lowest in the nation. Lawmakers for years have viewed the situation as a “black hole” – a problem so great that they could dump any amount of money into trying to address it, and it wouldn’t even make a dent – so they weren’t enthusiastic about trying. But that’s starting to change. Read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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