The Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless, seen in this photo, is one of the few places in Baton Rouge where the mentally ill can go for help. Louisiana ranks among the worst in the country for access to mental health care. Advocate Staff Photo/ HILARY SCHEINUK
A 2015 Mental Health America report ranks Louisiana 47th for overall mental health care, meaning the state has a high prevalence of mental illness and scarce access to care.
Leaders in Baton Rouge have had little success in improving the Capital City's mental health care offerings in recent months. The Metro Council rejected a proposed tax plan in January that would have asked voters to pay higher sales and property taxes for a $16.5 million mental health center, among other public safety and infrastructure improvements.
Non-violent, mentally ill people in Baton Rouge are often left without a place to go for proper treatment. Therefore, many end up shuffling in and out of jail for substance abuse problems, according to the Mayor's Office, Sheriff's Office and Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Those pushing for the mental health center have deemed Baton Rouge's lack of mental health care a dire emergency.
Louisiana is ranked 48th in Mental Health America's rankings for access to mental healthcare, while its southern neighbors Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are all in the bottom 10. Still, the rankings reveal that Louisiana does not have as strong of a need for mental health care as half of the other states in the country.
Despite the rankings, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals maintains that access to mental healthcare in the state has grown, citing an increase in service providers from 800 to more than double that amount.
"We have made substantial investments in mental health care access over the last six years," said DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins. "That access is based on rethinking how and where we provide care."
Many leaders who have proposed mental health improvements in Baton Rouge have cited San Antonio as a model. San Antonio has a restoration center that treats the mentally ill who would otherwise go to jail.
Despite San Antonio's success, Texas ranks 36th in overall mental health, according to Mental Health America.
The best states for overall mental health care are in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the study. The top five are Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota and Delaware.
The Mental Health America rankings were highlighted in a Wall Street Journal report this week that explored why there is a shortage of mental health providers. The story hones in on the difficulty of attracting and training psychiatrists, and other professions that are filling the gap.
Below are Mental Health America's full rankings for overall mental health care. High rankings mean a state has a low prevalence of mental illness with a lot of access to care, while low rankings reveal that a state has a higher amount of mental illness and scant access to care.
4 North Dakota
8 New Jersey
9 South Dakota
17 New York
18 North Carolina
23 New Hampshire
24 Rhode Island
30 District of Columbia
33 South Carolina
35 West Virginia
46 New Mexico