An apparent lack of available psychiatrists has led to a bill that would allow psychologists – with special training – to prescribe medication to patients with mental illnesses.

Missouri Families for Access to Comprehensive Treatment – or MO-Fact – was joined by psychologists, patients with mental illnesses and other proponents of the bill at the state capitol Jan. 14 to rally support for the bill.

Thomas Parquette, Executive Director of MO-Fact, says this bill would save lives because many with mental illnesses who don’t receive the care they need in a timely fashion end up committing suicide. He says there were 710 suicides in Missouri last year, many of which could’ve been prevented if victims with mental illnesses could’ve sought more immediate and accessible prescription-drug treatment.

Parquette says the statewide average of attempted suicides is about two per day.

State Rep. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) and Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mount Vernon) are co-sponsors of the bill.

Both legislators say they’ve tightened language in the bill to alleviate concerns that prevented the bill’s passage last year.

Dr. Roy Holden, a former state legislator and practitioner, also spoke in support of the bill. He says primary health physicians in Missouri prescribe 80 percent of mental health drugs and that the psychopharmacological training that would be required by psychologists, according to the legislation, would well exceed that which general practitioners currently receive in medical school.

Donna McArthur, a mental health patient, described her journey through depression and how the current system "holds patients hostage."

She sees a psychologist once a week for an hour but had to travel 80 miles round-trip to see a psychiatrist, who spent 20 minutes with her before ultimately misdiagnosing her as being bi-polar and put her on lithium. The visit to the psychiatrist, as well as being extremely inconvenient, was a huge financial burden, McArthur says.

"My psychologist probably knows more about me than my mother," she says, yet the current system allows psychiatrists to analyze patients, diagnose them and prescribe medication after only a brief, expensive visit.

Dr. Holden says there are a decreasing number of psychiatrists in the field, which could lead to months of waiting for patients who need to be on drug therapy.

Missouri would become the third state to allow psychologists prescriptive authority if the bill is signed into law. New Mexico and Louisiana already have laws in place, which proponents say have been successful – and the military implemented the practice seven years ago, successfully treating soldiers overseas.

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