On Thursday, September 23, Joy Hogge was a guest on the Mississippi Free Press’ MFP Live program to discuss mental health challenges and resources in Mississippi. She was joined by Melody Worsham, a certified peer-support specialist at the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi. Hosting the discussion were the co-founders of the Mississippi Free Press, Publisher Kimberly Griffin and Editor Donna Ladd.
“We first of all need to see mental health as part of health,” Joy told Donna when asked what the state of mental health care and services are in Mississippi. “When we focus that way, it’s something that helps us do what all people want to do.” Joy emphasized that mental health care ideally happens in the places that we live, and it focused on helping us to do the “real” things—work, be with our families, be in the community.
Melody took the first question about the U.S. v. Mississippi lawsuit over Mississippi’s mental healthcare system, getting to the core of why the case was brought and why the process has taken so long. “It got to the point where it really was violating their civil rights,” pointing out that when you’re over-medicated and over-hospitalized, your ability to have a normal life is being taken away from you, while your relationships, livelihood and other things people would consider “normal” will suffer.
Joy recounted her experience with Judge Reeves’ approach to the case, explaining that his final ruling adheres very closely to what the State of Mississippi had written as their version of the plan, with the major exception of Judge Reeves’ order of additional oversight via a monitor and a clinical review. She notes that the state has signaled that they don’t think they were in violation of the ADA and that they plan to appeal the case to higher court.
Perhaps the big, unanswerable question of the show came from Donna Ladd when she asked, “Why is it so hard to stop [the State] from fighting … possible reforms?”
“I’m sure there is more than one thing,” Joy answered, “As far as I know we’re the only state in the country where [the department of mental health] is the largest … state employer.” The emphasis on building facilities and creating jobs is something that’s difficult to compare to other states—Mississippi and Georgia have the same number of employees, she points out, and Georgia is a much larger state.
“Now they’re doing good work, I’m sure… I’m not judging those individual people out there on the front line,” Joy said. “But it’s the political powerhouse, and to change it—that’s a lot of people’s jobs, a lot of power in one state agency, and a lot of legislators who can be influenced.”
In a candid moment, Joy notes that—while the current director, Wendy Bailey, has been open and helpful in her tenure at MDMH, Joy isn’t sure to whom the department is ultimately accountable.
It’s a fascinating conversation about Mississippi, mental health and the implications of the Olmstead Act. We’ve love for you to watch the whole thing and we thank the Mississippi Free Press’ Kimberly Griffin and Donna Ladd for producing it.