As Hawaii faces a mental health crisis, psychologists struggle to keep up with patient demand

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 7:33 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some psychologists find themselves stretched thin and are calling for the state to make mental health a top priority.

Lawmakers considered a bill to start a two-year pilot program offering a mobile response unit to help the Honolulu Police Department deal with difficult cases, but the state says it wasn’t necessary because that’s already happening.

Dr. Richard Ries, a clinical psychologist in Honolulu who has referrals coming in every single day, said there’s just not enough resources for mental health services.

“But I’m not gonna lie, there are moments where I feel a little bit helpless, like I’m putting every joule of energy that I have in my body towards trying to make an impact on a problem that feels so insurmountable,” said Ries.

The clinical psychologist said doubling mental health services still wouldn’t cover the need, but having the resource embedded in other aspects of the community, like law enforcement, could be useful.

“And oftentimes, that little buffer can make a huge impact on our community,” said Ries.

Dr. Amy Curtis, of the state Department of Health’s Adult Mental Health Division, said the state has the Hawaii CARES Program, a one stop-shop for people to call in with any of their behavioral needs.

They have behavioral health specialists who go out into the field and help those in crisis.

“Our community has a real responsibility to keep developing the CARES Access Program, but it’s designed is sound, its design is good,” said Ries. “We just need more of it.”

Atilla Jobbaygi, of Waikiki, agrees.

He sees homeless every day in Waikiki and says it’s getting more dangerous.

“There’s violence, there’s guys urinating on the street and exposing themselves,” said Jobbaygi. “Sad, that nothing is being done, but I don’t know how you can just get arrested and come back out for crimes that hurt people.”

Curtis said one way to stop the revolving door is by decriminalizing mental health.

“So, I think there’s some services and statutes that we could use more fully, that would help us help those individuals. And I think we do need to do more on that, I completely agree,” said Curtis. “There’s definitely more we need to do as a state.”

Similarly, Ries said, “I certainly hope that the future Honolulu and the future Hawaii will move more in a direction of addressing those things more adequately.”

Whether you’re in crisis, treatment or recovery, you can call the Hawaii CARES helpline toll free at 1-800-753-6879.

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