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Black faith leaders call for fully funded mental health crisis response system 

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More than 800 Hoosiers and Black faith leaders are urging state lawmakers to “re-imagine public safety” by fully funding a mental health crisis response system in Indiana.

Leaders of the Black Church Coalition and Faith in Indiana met with legislators on March 14 and urged for full funding of Senate Bill 1, a proposal that would provide all Hoosiers with a mental health helpline, mental health professionals to arrive on the scene of a crisis and facilities.

The proposal has already unanimously passed the Senate and is now in a House committee. But fully funding the crisis response system is what brought Black faith leaders to the Statehouse to speak to legislative leaders.

An Indiana Behavioral Health Commission report determined that untreated mental illness costs Indiana $4.2 billion yearly. Establishing and running a crisis response system will cost $130.6 million annually, the same report found.

Dr. Carlos Perkins, pastor at Bethel Cathedral AME Church said a lack of services can lead to deadly results at a press conference March 14.

“One of the things that has motivated us is the case of Herman Whitfield,” Perkins said. “And that family has now had to go through, over the last year, the pain of losing a son because he had a mental health crisis and they called the police.”

Herman Whitfield III, 39, died April 25 2022 after his mother called 911 during an apparent mental health crisis. Whitfield’s death was ruled a homicide by the Marion County Coroner’s Office in July 2022, and his family is currently suing the city for wrongful death. Whitfield’s family has been vocal about their disappointment with the police response to their call for help.

For Perkins, it’s also personal. Perkins said he sees the struggle for mental health services not only for his church members, but his own family. He continues to watch his brother suffer from a “mental health break” more than a decade after he had a psychotic episode, Perkins said.

“We as a family have been struggling with this over the last 12 years,” Perkins said.
Josh Riddick, Faith in Indiana organizer said there are “far too many stories” from families “torn apart by a system that does not care about their well-being, or not yet capable of offering the care they need.”

“We want to live in a world where being in mental health crisis does not warrant the presence of law enforcement, and we want a world where the system we interact with has resources and tools to help our loved ones,” Riddick said.

Riddick said it is important to fund the legislation so that Hoosiers don’t continue to struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse and death at the hands of law enforcement.

“We are hoping that our time at the Statehouse allows grassroots leaders the opportunity to bring stories and experiences that will urge our State Representatives to fully fund a mental health crisis system,” Riddick said.

“We are just one of the many communities throughout Indiana that are collectively raising our voice to demand a re-imagination of public safety,” he said.

The day at the statehouse is the latest slate of events by Black faith leaders.
If approved in the House, the bill would move on to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for signature.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett 317-762-7847 or by email JaydenK@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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