By Natalie Gargiulo
Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli, a Zionsville resident, is committed to promoting and raising awareness for mental health initiatives. Last month, for example, he attended the Mental Health and Addiction Symposium in Indianapolis, hosted by Mental Health America.
Santelli, founder of the Traders Point Caring Carriage, a nonprofit that generates donations for Sylvia’s Advocacy Center, was recognized last month by the Boone County Commissioners for his “dedication to improving the quality of life for Boone County residents by focusing on mental health initiatives.”
As a county commissioner, Santelli has championed several initiatives to address mental health issues in Boone County, particularly in schools and in the criminal justice system. For example, he was instrumental in establishing a mental health program as part of the new Boone County Justice Center, which broke ground last month.
“We have equipped each school in Boone County with school resource officers and added canine officers to community corrections and probation,” Santelli said. “Jails have become the centers for mental health disorders.”
Santelli said the establishment of 988 mental health emergency services and certified community behavioral health centers are key in promoting sound mental health. He added that focusing on mental health will be a priority in the new Boone County Justice Center.
“In the U.S, we incarcerate more people than any other developed nation by a large percentage,” he said. “We are doing an injustice if we only focus on the status quo. We are doing an injustice. Many tragedies could be avoided with crisis intervention and mental health counseling.”
Santelli said the justice center will work with mental health providers Aspire and InWell to provide mental health services to inmates.
“Eighty percent of our arrests suffer from a combination of mental health and substance use disorders,” Santelli said. “My goals are to provide best practice, cost-effective mental health care within our community. We need to move to person-centered care.
“Those in crisis will receive timely, complete and accurate information to deliver care effectively.”
Mental Health of America continually provides new and innovative approaches to mental health, which is why Santelli was delighted to attend its annual conference.
“The education we received during this day is critical to continue advancing the mental health services that Boone County provides,” said Santelli, adding that the symbol of mental health is the Mental Health Bell.
The Mental Health Bell is a 300-pound bell that was cast in 1953 from shackles that were used to restrain patients in asylums who suffered from mental illness. When not displayed at special events, the bell is housed in the Mental Health America’s national center in Arlington, Va.
“The bell is made from the shackles from the state mental institutions used to restrain individuals inappropriately,” Santelli said.
Santelli said that the results they have achieved are life-changing for individuals and communities.