A police chief’s call to fix Minnesota’s mental health system

While the Minnesota Legislature tackles the thorny issue of portraits of ex-governors, the scandal that is the mental health system continues relatively unabated, as just about anybody who’s tried to get access to it can attest.

Lee Sjolander, the usually bubbly police chief of Kenyon, Minn., is calling attention to it today with a story of trying to help someone who needed it. Is anybody listening?


  • wjc

    I’m afraid that no one is listening. When was the last time there was a concerted effort to do something useful about mental illness? Quite a while, I wager.

    • A lot of the work is around the edges of the problem. There were some “wins” in the last few legislative sessions — boosts to mental health funding in schools, for example. And last session there was increased funding for development of community health clinics.

      But the systemic problem of people in crisis getting access to immediate care is haphazard from county to county.

      • Veronica

        Want to hear something sickening?

        Ramsey County’s Crisis Department doesn’t bill insurance for the care they receive, so for the last 3 years or so the department has been deep in the red, not the black, creating more chaos and reducing services.

  • Laurie K.

    I have so much respect for this police chief. I wish others in law enforcement would take a page from his playbook and remember that compassion goes a long way in assisting the people they have pledged to protect and serve. My understanding is that on average there are only about 100 psych beds available in the whole state of Minnesota and even fewer if the patient is a minor. When I volunteered as an EMT we stood around for over an hour at times as the doctors and/or nurses called various facilities looking for an empty mental health bed. At times the nearest open bed would be nearly three hours away. There is a lot of lip service given by politicians on all levels about the need for mental health services, but when the rubber meets the road, as it did recently in Eagle Lake, Minnesota where local officials refused to allow a church to turn it’s building into a Leo A. Hoffmann Center to provide services to troubled teens, the prevailing sentiment seems to turn to “but not in my backyard”…

    • The situation in particular with kids in this state who are in crisis is absolutely scandalous. If you’re a parent with a kid in crisis, you have no idea where to turn and quite often you’ll end up in a hospital and in the Twin Cities, there’s a possibility your kid will end up being shipped to the western part of the state or Fargo for a bed.

      We wouldn’t stand for this for one second if it were any other illness.

      Personally, and this is a personal opinion, I’d like to see a lot less obsessing about ending the stigma of mental illness and a lot more focus on getting treatment for mental illness.

      • Laurie K.

        It is heartbreaking as a parent to watch your child in crisis and to not have any way of helping because even the medical professionals are unable to assist you. I know, as a parent, I have been there. I have sat back helpless as they placed my child on yet another 72 hour hold which only provided a hospital bed and meals – no mental health care. Then when the hold was done, I sat back stunned as they released my clearly struggling child back to my care with a “safety plan” that included removing all knives, guns and medications from my home. I agree, if this were any other disease, we would not accept this substandard system. However, that is whyI do believe that we need to make more effort to end the stigma of mental illness. I think it is the perception of people that because someone is mentally ill that they are a danger to society or the perception that if someone is depressed it is their own fault for not “picking themselves up” that prevents them from seeing mental illness as a disease like any other disease.

        • I’m sorry for your struggle. It’s a lonely, lonely experience shared by, literally, thousands of parents . The stories I hear are EXACTLY as you described. As a society, we talk a great game.

        • rallysocks

          I’m sorry as well. This just shouldn’t happen–but as noted here and elsewhere, it all too often does and it doesn’t seem like anyone will ever do anything about it.

          If I was a praying kind of person, I would gladly do so, but all I can do is wish for strength and peace for you and your child.

          It’s not enough though.

  • Anna

    All of this started back in the early 70’s when government in its infinite wisdom decided that persons with serious persistent mental illness SPMI, could be mainstreamed into their local communities.

    Mental health hospitals and their beds were closed by the hundreds and the mentally ill homeless crisis began.

    Unfortunately, community services were not in place when the decision was made so without the proper counseling support and necessary medication, the mentally ill could no longer hold down a job with any regularity and were forced to live on the street or in temporary shelters.

    Without prescribed medication, they turned to whatever they could afford as Lee Sjolander says, “to turn off the demons and voices in their heads” with alcohol, street drugs and yes, heroin.

    We’ve had this discussion so many times on NewsCut but the stigma of mental illness still persists, perpetuated by those who are ignorant and are untouched by it until it directly crosses their path.

    There are ACT teams in some counties in Minnesota but not in others, mainly in the metro area.

    Basic education for law enforcement on the different types of mental illness and how to talk to those experiencing a mental breakdown or psychotic break could prevent so many fatal encounters between the police and those requiring professional intervention.

    There’s always lots of talk but no action. I fear unless some financial incentive is attached to it, it will never be a priority not now, not ever.

    • I think there’s a lot of insanity itself in the county system in MN.

    • Carolie

      If the community supports were there we wouldn’t need the crisis beds as the crisis would be often averted by early intervention. There are over a dozen bills up for consideration to improve access etc. We have a long way to go and it is a tough road. It will only get worse if systems change to block grants.

  • HaroldAMaio

    —the stigma of mental illness still persists

    It does, in some minds. From there is wends its way into print suggesting it is a universal.

    It is not.

    Search this title for an excellent article: “Let’s Call Mental Health Stigma What It Really Is: Discrimination”.