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Mental health funding top issue at forum

Mental health funding top issue at forum
Mental health funding top issue at forum
Photo by Ross Schulz. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch listens to a comment Monday afternoon during a round-table discussion with elected officials at the Harrison County Discovery Center in Corydon.
By Ross Schulz, Contributing Writer

Area elected officials joined Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and State Sen. Gary Byrne on Monday afternoon for a round-table discussion about issues affecting local government. The event was hosted by the Harrison County Discovery Center in downtown Corydon, taking place in the second-floor meeting room.

Byrne, who was elected to the position of District 47 senator at a caucus in late February after Erin Houchin resigned to seek a Congressional seat, introduced Crouch by telling a story from his first couple of days in Indianapolis as a senator.

Byrne had a couple of young women working as pages, who wanted to get a photo with Crouch.

“My name is Gary Byrne, I’m the newest senator here, and I’ve got two young ladies from Salem that want their picture taken with you,” he said as he approached Crouch. “And she obliged. I get my phone out and get ready to take the picture and she says, ‘No, no, no; you get in here,’ and she has her assistant take the picture. I was just as happy as I could be that we got that picture for these young girls. And you know, they were excited, but I was more excited than they were.”

Byrne said it showed Crouch cares about her work and is a great role model for young women.

Before making her way to the Statehouse, Crouch spent many years in local government as Vanderburgh County auditor and county commissioner.

“Not many people in the Statehouse have local government experience,” Byrne said.
Crouch said it is critically important for leaders in the General Assembly to have a background in local government.

“Oftentimes, people at the state level don’t understand the decisions they’re making and how that affects local government,” she said.

Crouch gave the group a little insight into life as a married couple while working at the Statehouse. Crouch and her husband, Larry, recently celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary. Crouch said Larry is retired and their roles have changed, as he now does the house work: laundry, shopping, cooking and even cleaning.

“And if I don’t wear my bifocals, it looks OK,” Crouch joked.

Spending the week in Indianapolis and the weekends at home, Crouch said she told her husband, “You know, after 44 years of marriage, it sure is nice to have a wife at home.”

Not missing a beat, her husband, who, according to Crouch, has a dry sense of humor, replied: “I know. I never had one.”

The moral of the story, Crouch said, is if a couple plans to stay married for any length of time, they both better have a sense of humor. And, know your lane and stay in it.”

Going around the room giving attendees an opportunity to ask questions, many topics were covered, including inflation, circuit breakers, high-speed internet, rising cost of hunting licenses and the Community Crossings grant.

The topic that garnered the most discussion and support, however, was funding for mental health.

Todd Ewen, Washington County District 2 Commissioner, said people with mental health issues have nowhere to go.

“The hospitals don’t want them; the (mental health) facilities are overwhelmed,” he said. “This has an effect on every single aspect of our lives. It is a waste of a mind, a body and a human being.”

Ewen said the state needs to, somehow, find the funding for mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem, Ewen said.

“Maybe part of the problem is some of these people need to go to work,” he said. “Keep their minds and bodies busy.”

Crouch said mental health is a main focus for her. She said her mother suffered from depression, her sister committed suicide and she has an alcoholic brother.

The human cost of the pandemic was huge, according to Crouch, affecting the workforce, budgets and public and private sectors. After talking with school leaders, teachers and other youth leaders in Indiana, Crouch has learned that panic, anxiety, self harm and suicide has never been higher among the state’s youth.

“And that is the future of Indiana,” she said. “Everyone deserves an opportunity to be successful.”
Crouch said a change in mental health report is due to the General Assembly this fall and she hopes positive measures will come out of it.

“Now is the time to do something, while we have the money,” she said.

Harrison County Sheriff Nick Smith said it is not only the general public that needs help with mental health, but also law enforcement officers.

Smith said the No. 1 killer of officers is suicide. He also said police officers have the No. 1 divorce rate in the world.

“ … No. 1. Not school teachers, not attorneys, not doctors, not factory workers; it’s cops,” he said.
Smith said he’d like to see a mandatory mental program for officers and first responders.
Crouch also updated the group on Indiana’s fiscal strength.

“Sixteen years ago, the state was not in good fiscal condition,” she said. “We were paying out more than we were taking in.”

It was so bad, in fact, that the state delayed payments to schools, universities and local governments, Crouch said.

“The state didn’t have enough money to pay their bills,” she said. “In the last 16 years, we’ve turned the state around. We now have balanced budgets, low taxes, healthy surpluses and, in fact, this year, every taxpayer is getting a taxpayer refund because our surplus exceeded 12.5% of the operating budget.”

She said it is the second time that has occurred since the bill passed in 2011. Indiana is No. 1 in the Midwest and top five nationally for business environment, second most affordable state, third best infrastructure and one of 13 with AAA credit bond rating.

“Those are incredible accomplishments,” Crouch said.