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  • Writer's pictureRoland Behm

A Letter to Kyle



*This guest blog post mentions suicide. While we believe it is important to have open and honest conversations about mental health, we also understand that these discussions can be triggering for some. If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. In the US, the number 988 is the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, available by phone or text 24/7 in English and Spanish.

To mark the anniversary of the passage of the landmark legislation of the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act, we are sharing a letter written a year ago by Roland Behm, Co-founder of the Georgia Mental Health Policy Partnership, Board Member and Former Board Chair, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Georgia Chapter. The letter is to his son, Kyle, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010 as a junior in college and died by suicide in August 2019.

April 2023 marks the one-year anniversary of House Bill 1013 being signed into law. It is a monumental, bipartisan legislation and an outcome of the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission’s dedicated and innovative work. Learn more about HB 1013 on Resilient Georgia’s Statewide Advocacy Page. We are equally excited to support Mental Health House Bill 520 which furthers behavioral health reform and recovery in communities across Georgia.

Roland is a brilliant, tireless advocate for suicide prevention. We are grateful to him for allowing us to share this heartfelt -- and heart wrenching -- reminder of the life changing and lifesaving potential of HB 1013.

Dear Kyle,

Being your father continues to be one of the best roles in my life. You encouraged me to celebrate the victories, be they large or small, and I know you'll be with me over the coming days, weeks, months, and years as we celebrate the passage of the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act into law.

Tomorrow, the Georgia Senate will vote in favor of the bill, and after a bit of cleanup with the Georgia House and the signature of the Governor, the bill will become law.

As the Lamentations-based hymn lyrics read, the bill offers strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

What does parity mean? You know, and for others:

It means persons with behavioral health challenges won't have to beg for scraps thrown from the health care table. It means they will have a seat at that table, free from shame, stigma, and sorrow.

It means families with health insurance won't have to mortgage their homes or drain college savings or retirement accounts to pay for mental health or substance use disorder care for family members.

It means parents of children with behavioral health needs will not have to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights because they are unable to find or afford care for their children.

While not directly parity-related, the bill means tens of millions of dollars in more health care spending for some of the most medically vulnerable Georgians, including 3 in 8 of Georgia's children, 5 in 7 Georgians in nursing homes, and 1 in 3 Georgians with disabilities. The tens of millions of dollars in health care spending for Georgia's Medicaid and PeachCare programs comes at no additional cost to Georgia's taxpayers.

Insurers will be held to account and required to spend at least 85 cents of every dollar in premium revenue on direct care and, if they don't, they will be forced to repay unspent funds to the state (rather than have it fall to their bottom lines).

The bill means trialing a potential "third way" for persons with lived experience of behavioral health: assisted outpatient treatment - an alternative to either neglect or involuntary commitment. A program that binds the community to provide behavioral health and wraparound services to facilitate successful recoveries.

There's so much more.

Our mutual friend Lydia sent a text after watching me standing behind Speaker David Ralston at his press conference introducing the bill in late January. She mentioned I looked up once during the Speaker's remarks and she imagined you smiling down with love. That was exactly what was happening. I remain saddened by our physical distance, and yours is the heart that lives in my heart, keeping me safe and comforted.

So, let's celebrate all the good work, all the hard work that went into securing the passage of the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act, and all the friends, like you, who helped make it a reality.

Love,

Dad


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