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St. Louis County bolsters mental health advocacy

The establishment of advisory councils in north and south halves of the county gives voice to those with "lived experiences" with mental illness.

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Beginning in October, mental health services in St. Louis County will have advocacy from people with “lived experiences.”

The County Board began approval Tuesday of two Local Mental Health Advisory Councils aimed at the north and south halves of the county. The board gave first approval at its meeting in Aurora, and will finalize the adoption of the councils at its meeting Oct. 6 in Duluth.

The councils replace an informal council, which did not meet state statute adopted in 1987 and 1989.

“One piece we were missing was the folks in St. Louis County who had lived experiences with mental illness, whether as an adult or child or as a family member,” Commissioner Patrick Boyle told the News Tribune. “That voice really needed to be heard at the county level.”

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Patrick Boyle

Gena Bossert, behavioral health director for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services, said the change followed an internal review.

“We decided to more formally work on looking at the (state) requirements and start the process of developing a council that can advise (Public Health),” she said.

A process featuring more than 100 applicants settled on 28 new members to the councils, including 13 north and 15 south. The councils will advise the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department.

Boyle said it will make the board’s job easier knowing measures are being vetted by the advisory councils.

“The goal of (the councils) is to utilize the knowledge of diverse groups of individuals in order to improve mental health services for Minnesotans,” said a board letter establishing the councils.

The groups will also make recommendations to improve mental health services in St. Louis County annually, the board letter said.

The councils will represent children and adults and must meet criteria to include people with mental illness, family members of adults and children with mental illness, “at least one parent of a child or adolescent with severe emotional disturbance,” mental health professionals, support services representatives, and people from minority populations.

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One of the goals of the group, Boyle said, is to make sure agencies delivering services “aren’t overlapping and stepping on each other to best serve those living with mental health issues.”

“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” Boyle said, adding that the board has made a commitment over the past five or six years to tackle mental health, raising St. Louis County to an enviable level. "We have resources that attract folks coming in to get the help they need."

The Minnesota Comprehensive Mental Health Act of 1987 and the Minnesota Comprehensive Children’s Mental Health Act of 1989 set the stage for mental health policies for all Minnesotans, according to the board letter.

“The establishment of Local Mental Health Advisory Councils at the county level was an essential part of that vision,” the letter said.

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