Bob's Words of Wisdom

Why is Idaho the 48th State in Mental Health?

As many of our readers may know that three years ago, I moved to New Meadows Idaho from Meridian as the neighborhood I lived in was becoming more congested with traffic and slowly but surely deteriorating and turning into something I didn’t want to deal with. As I told Kevin Miller many times, I needed to get away from the ongoing congestion that was becoming a plague to the Treasure Valley. Between the traffic congestion and the new developments taking over the farmland that used to surround us I needed to find a place with not only less traffic but with a lot less people.

New Meadows is a sleepy little town of about 530 residents with two gas stations three restaurants, a library, Dollar Store Two Motels and some miscellaneous shops. It’s not the type of place that you would even think that there would be any crime, but we found out differently. About a week ago a guest staying at the Heartland Inn shot and killed the owners Rory and Sara Mehen. From several news accounts it appears that an off-duty sheriff arrested a suspect just south of Cambridge without incident. The suspect John Cody Hart was from Washington State and was staying at the Inn as a guest. He was charged with 2 counts of murder in the first degree and now a prisoner in the Adams County jail. From news accounts it appears that Mr. Hart was freed in July from the Clark County jail in Washington where he was on supervised release after being charged with one count each of first- and second-degree assault after awaiting competency restoration services at Western State Hospital in Washington. It appears that in September of last year Hart was found competent to stand trial by a state evaluator even though a physician had diagnosed him with schizophrenia and a cannabis use disorder. His defense attorney sought a second opinion, and it was agreed that he was incompetent to stand trial and a judge ordered him sent to Western State Hospital for competency restoration.

My message here is a simple one but yet complex as we see more crime being committed around our county particularly in the more liberal sanctuary cities, but we here in rural Idaho are not immune from the dangers presented by those who are mentally ill. Had Mr. Hart who is suspected of killing the Mehens gotten some treatment they might still be alive. While the suspect was from Washington State where it appears, they did not have room for him in the hospital he was assigned to go to we are no better off in Idaho. Mr. Hart could just as well have been a resident of Idaho where we have a serious mental health problem that neither our governor nor our legislators want to address.

Idaho has 1.8 million people and close to 4.7% of adults in our state live with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Only 47.5% of adults with mental illness in Idaho receive any form of treatment from either the public system or private providers. The remaining 52.1% receive no mental health treatment at all. So, who ultimately has responsibility for these types of shootings? More than 400 Idahoans died by suicide each year and we have the 5th highest suicide rate in the US that’s from 2018 numbers (1.5 times higher than the national average) suicide was the 9th leading cause of death among Idahoans. While I can’t say that having a better mental health system in our state would have stopped this senseless shooting, but I have to point out that Idaho is 48th in caring for its citizens’ mental health. New Meadows shooting was perpetrated by a Washington State resident where it ranks 32nd in the country in mental health.

I would like to call your attention to the fact that Marijuana is completely legalized in Washington State as of 2021, as the state permits its use for medical purposes and by any adults over 21 years old for recreational purposes. Idaho borders both Washington and Oregon where marijuana is legal, and we know for a fact that today’s marijuana has very high amounts of THC the drug that brings a euphoria to it users. The problem is that many users have become so used to the higher amounts of THC that they never really get off of the high that it gives them, which is known to cause problems with one’s ability to reason and function normally. Just this past week our president Joe Biden has pardoned anyone who was serving time for a federal marijuana possession charge. While the use of marijuana may not lead to a person becoming violent to the point of killing another human being it certainly is not helping to curb the mental problems that are continuing to develop by the day from the legalization of this drug. We need to do more to help those who have contracted mental illnesses not just from the use of marijuana but from all causes. Our Governor just finished a special session with the legislature and gave most Idahoans a tax refund along with giving another $400 million of our tax dollars to education. Unfortunately, neither he nor the legislature thought to give one dime to fix the mental health problem we have here in our state.

I wonder just how many lives could be saved from suicides and other mental illness causes if we made at least an effort to fix our mental health system and provide it with the necessary funds to save the lives of so many Idahoans who are challenged with mental health problems?

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