For The Record

Advocates for increased mental health services rally at Capitol for more support

By: - January 24, 2022 7:04 pm

Jasmine Turner is one of more than a dozen Georgians in recovery who will be featured on billboards across the state as part of a project designed to chip away at the stigma of addiction. She is pictured holding a miniature replica of her billboard, which features Turner with her mom and 14-year-old son. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

There was a time when Jasmine Turner was reluctant to talk about her recovery from addiction. But today, the Sandy Springs mom says she wants to share her story with anyone who will listen.

Or in this case, any observant motorist who looks up.

Turner is one of more than a dozen Georgians in recovery who will be featured on billboards across the state as part of a project designed to chip away at the stigma of addiction and offer passersby a sense of hope.

“I used to be ashamed of saying that I was a person in recovery, but now, it’s like for the world to know,” said Turner, who has been in recovery for nearly 11 years and now works as a recovery minister at North Atlanta Church of Christ. “Yes, recovery is possible, and in all bold letters, no matter what.”

“No matter what” is a reminder she has tattooed on her arms and has had printed on wristbands she freely gives away at the grocery store and wherever she goes. The billboard just vastly expanded the reach of her message: Recovery is possible, no matter what.

Turner said she hopes the billboards will inspire someone who is facing their own struggle. The billboard project is in its second year and is funded through federal block grant funds, which the state decides how to spend. This year’s campaign cost $1.2 million.

Turner and the other featured Georgians rallied at the state Capitol Monday as advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers press for action on mental health and substance use disorder services.

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A lengthy bill is set to be unveiled Wednesday. State Rep. Todd Jones, a South Forsyth Republican who co-chairs the newly formed mental health caucus, said Monday the measure will be about “as comprehensive as you’re going to see any bill” be.

The work is expected to include recommendations from the state Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission that has been meeting since 2019. Advocates have been pushing for state enforcement of a 14-year-old federal law that requires insurers to provide behavioral health benefits that are on par with physical coverage.

“We know that recovery is more essential than ever,” Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental disabilities, said Monday.

“We heard widespread reporting about alarming increases in overdoses and substance use across the nation and in Georgia. So, it’s essential to put behavioral health at the center of our overall well being,” she said.

There have been troubling signs of the pandemic’s toll on mental health and substance use here in Georgia, although it will likely take time to measure the full impact.

But advocates have sounded the alarm and have called the harm to behavioral health the “next pandemic” – or the epidemic within the pandemic. They have gotten the attention of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and some have gone as far as to predict this legislative session will be “the year for mental health.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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