Bristol-Myers Squibb: Mental Health & Well-Being Initiative Addresses Needs of Former Soldiers And Prisoners
Mental Health & Well-Being Initiative Addresses Needs of Former Soldiers And Prisoners

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation Leads Public Private Partnership to Help Increase Awareness and Educate Patients

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Soldiers returning home from war carry more than duffle bags and dog tags when their tour of duty ends.

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Studies show that only half of all service personnel affected by serious mental illness seek treatment. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation's Mental Health & Well-Being Initiative seeks to reverse the trend.
Studies show that nearly one in five (18 percent) of the men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004 suffers from severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 19 percent have traumatic brain injuries. Suicide rates among United States military personnel are at an all-time high and threaten to rise since soldiers with brain injuries are three to four times more likely to commit suicide. Yet only half of all service personnel affected by serious mental illness seek treatment.

Closer to home, an estimated one in seven men and one in three women in the U.S. criminal justice system suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. For them, finding work and a place to live -- already difficult due to their criminal record -- is complicated by mental illness or behavioral issues such as drug or alcohol addiction.

Helping Patients Return to Society

Recognizing the enormous challenges these patients face, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is working with community partners across the country to help former soldiers and former prisoners successfully return to the society they left behind.

Like its other global initiatives to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes, the Foundation’s new strategy on the Mental Health & Well-Being initiative leverages public and private sector partners in the community and outside the clinic to increase disease awareness, educate patients about effective self-management of their disease, reduce stigma, and provide emotional support.

“We believe there is much that can be done through strong, community partnerships to help both of these targeted populations,” says Catharine Grimes, director, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “We want our projects to serve as powerful examples of how public-private partnerships can drive much-needed innovations in the nature and quality of care and support available to patients who are managing their illness in their homes and communities.”

Working with A Variety of Partners

The Foundation is working with a variety of private and public partners, including Give an Hour, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Military Family Research Institute, the American Psychiatric Foundation and Wal-Mart Foundation on an initiative that will demonstrate in two large communities effective approaches of community outreach, education and care for returning military service members and their families, including National Guard and Reservists. The program is slated for launch later this spring.

“War has both short-term and long-term consequences that can influence the emotional and physical health of returning veterans and their family members for many years to come, but the mental health resources available to soldiers and their families are disconnected and underutilized for a number of reasons,” Grimes says.

“The military is trying to address these issues but does not have enough resources and also cannot reach everyone in need of help, especially the National Guard and Reservists. Community leaders tell us that a clear system or approach geared to the unique issues facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans needs to be developed in order to focus community and agency efforts, and to build the military-friendly communities they so desperately want to build.”

Growing Demand for Better Treatment

While the mental health struggles of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have only recently been getting attention, mental health advocates such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others have for years been demanding better treatment of prisoners as the number of people with serious mental illness who are incarcerated has grown.

“Over the past 50 years, the number of psychiatric hospital beds in the U.S. has decreased 90 percent while the number of people with mental illness in prisons has risen 400 percent,” Grimes says. “On any given day, 550,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in jails and prisons across the United States and 900,000 people with mental illnesses are on probation or parole in the community.”

Today more Americans with mental illness are treated in correctional facilities than in mental hospitals, a situation that Grimes notes, “has significant financial and social ramifications across the country.”

Tallying Up the Cost

Florida, for example, spends about $600 million a year -- $1.6 million per day -- to house people with mental illness in state prisons and forensic treatment facilities. Cities such as Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville, among others, spend another $500 million each year housing people with mental illnesses in city and county jails.

The Miami-Dade County Jail is the largest psychiatric institution in Florida. One in seven males (14.5 percent) and three in 10 females (31 percent) serving time in the jail each year suffer from serious mental illness. Among those who are the heaviest users of mental health care, the typical inmate in the Miami-Dade jail has been arrested 22 times over the past five years and spent 275 days behind bars during that period.

Like its neighbor to the south, Georgia seeks to end the revolving door of relapse, recidivism and recovery. Using a $2 million, two-year grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and with help from Emory University, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and CSX Foundation, NAMI Georgia has launched the Opening Doors to Recovery Project.

Navigating Community-Based Care

Focusing on 100 adults who have experienced a mental health crisis and returned to jail, prison, state hospitals or homelessness more than once a year, Opening Doors to Recovery will develop and evaluate a case management service designed to help patients navigate available community-based care and track their use of non-medical support that often is critical to recovery but not typically captured in medical records.

“Individuals with serious mental illness are twice as likely to fail on traditional community supervision compared with individuals without mental illness, and there are few existing community supports tailored to the unique needs of this vulnerable population,” Grimes explains. “These patients need a safety net. By providing justice-involved mentally ill individuals with tools to avoid another crisis and progress toward their recovery goals in the community, we hope to stop this downward spiral.”


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