Mental Health Reform takes center stage in Iowa

With the recent tragic events in Connecticut, the national conversation has shifted to gun control; however, there is another topic being discussed, one that always seems to have some sort of stigma to it, and that is mental illness. Specifically here in Iowa, Mental Health Reform.

"We want to go to a uniform system. One that provides quality mental health services all over the state; delivered locally, but really done and managed on a state-wide basis," said Governor Branstad to KTVO in January of 2012.

The proposal Governor Branstad was speaking about in early 2012, is not sitting well with Democrats in late 2012.

"My biggest concern is the funding; and that was my concern at the time when we voted on it. That is why I voted against it," said State Representative Mary Gaskill, who represents Ottumwa and portions of Wapello County.

Gaskill says after hearing the concerns from her county supervisors that the governor's plan wouldn't work.

"We knew that it wouldn't work for Wapello County, and it is not working for a lot of other counties. That actually reduced the amount of money across the state by $10 million that was in the mental health funding program," Gaskill said.

The services for Wapello County would decrease under the governor's proposal, however those cuts will not come for another two years.

With that in mind, Gaskill knows first hand the issues involved in dealing with a family member who suffers from mental illness.

"There were issues with my sister; and I didn't know what was wrong as a child, and I don't know if my parents knew there was an issue. But when she was 21 or 22 years old, she was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. It was a difficult childhood because my parents said to me, '...take care of your sister in school...' and that was a really heavy load and I didn't know what was going on," Gaskill said.

Gaskill says that the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill has come out with new numbers, saying that almost 27 percent of the population has some type of mental illness and as a country, we are only treating 5 percent of those diagnosed.

House and Senate Democrats say that they will work together this session to try to bring their issues to the forefront, as the tragic events that played out in Connecticut shed light on available services for those with mental illness.