After years of federal and state governments leaving mental health funding to stagnate, a local effort is moving forward to provide services at the Cullman County Detention Center.

Last year a $50,000 federal grant was secured to hire a professional counselor to evaluate and work with potential repeat offenders whose cases are aggravated by mental health issues.

The Cullman County Commission has authorized Sheriff Matt Gentry to iron out some dangling details in its formal agreement with WellStone Behavioral Health, which is providing the service at no cost to taxpayers due to the grant.

A local group of professionals in the medical, law enforcement and judicial field identified the need with WellStone to find a way to work with inmates in an effort to address mental health issues that may be at the root of incarceration and repeat offenses.

There is growing concern and realization that many inmates are involved in crimes, including abuse of illegal and prescription drugs, because of untreated mental health problems. Because many of them cannot afford treatment through clinics, providing the service at the detention center makes sense and hopefully yields positive results.

With the grant secured and the service available for inmates, the next challenge will be to maintain funding so mental health care can extend deeper into the community. The affordability of the care extends across Alabama.

Mental health can cover a wide spectrum, just like other medical issues. Some problems can be addressed through counseling or counseling combined with medication. The first step, however, is reaching people and providing the necessary diagnosis to move forward.

Local government and organizations have some resources they can put into mental healthcare, but more support at the state and federal levels will be needed to fully address the needs statewide.

Securing the grant for a healthcare professional to work with inmates was a major step for the area. Local support, for starters, may ensure that the program continues.

Mental illness is treatable, but Cullman County needs to continue its push to secure more funding and resources. This community has proven many times it can hurdle big challenges, and this is one of those issues that needs such an effort.

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