Gov. Scott Walker said he will propose increasing funding for mental health services across Wisconsin by $30 million.
Walker told the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Counties Association on Wednesday that he's been looking into the state's mental health needs, but the effort took on added urgency following mass shootings in the state and across the country.
Walker said he will propose the funding in his two-year state budget to be introduced Feb. 20.
He said the money will go into expanding services statewide that currently are only offered in some counties. That includes coordinated mental health care for juveniles, comprehensive care designed to reduce hospitalizations and additional inpatient treatment units at the Mendota Mental Health Institute.
"What it's really about are lives, not only those that I mentioned, the stories they tell and the idea that not only are we helping them, we're helping ourselves because as they become more productive citizens and are able to handle the health issues that face them, we're able to give them the care. Hopefully through these expanded efforts we'll be able to do it in all parts and all counties of the state of Wisconsin," Walker said.
Walker said he feels mental health is an area that's often overlooked.
State lawmakers are also adding to the effort. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R- Rochester, announced a bipartisan task force to examine issues with mental health.
"Like the governor who made an announcement today, we recognize that the current system for treating those with mental illness is not getting the job done," Vos said.
"Here's an opportunity to bring people together to really address it. Stigma is the No. 1 reason people don't seek treatment, and if we can do something to address that it will be great," said Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood.
Mental health advocates said all of this is a step in the right direction.
"I think the state's investments and both Republicans and Democrats working together on this issue goes a long way to reducing the stigma for people with mental illness, because we're saying this is something we should be providing support to people, we should be investing in people and children early on as opposed to sending them to the emergency room or Corrections," said Lisa Pugh, of Disability Rights Wisconsin.
Lawmakers said they were generally supportive of the governor's new funding for mental health.
Pasch said she hoped the governor would also take additional federal Medicaid funds to help those with mental illness.