Mahoning Co. Court, local agencies work to tackle mental illness

Mental health experts say it is important to continue medication and treatment for mental illnesses

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – One in four people in this country develop some form of mental illness during their lifetimes. Some, like Andrew Gallagher, are able to enroll in programs like Mahoning County’s Mental Health Court, from which he graduated two years ago.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney said Gallagher was not problematic going through the program, receiving no sanctions.

But, investigators believe Gallagher committed suicide years after completing that program, intentionally setting fire to himself and his Boardman home in December. Police found his body in a second floor bathroom.

Gallagher was placed into the Mental Health Court program in 2011, after police said he tried to chain himself inside a car, which he doused with gasoline and tried to light on fire.

Hope Haney, the local director for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) said it is difficult for friends and family members to understand mental illnesses, but it is important for those suffering from a mental illness to continue treatment.

“For example, if you have asthma, there are things you need to do — see your doctor, use your inhaler and so on. There are things that you need to do throughout the rest of your life that are going to help you manage what’s going on for you,” Haney said.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization that provides education and advocacy to mental health issues, as well as support to those who may be suffering from a mental illness through its toll-free NAMI HelpLine.

Judge Sweeney, who oversees the local Mental Health Court said graduation is just one step in the process of treating the illness.

“You have the importance of after-care treatment, continuing your meds, counseling, because if you don’t, you spiral down,” she said.

Sweeney and Haney said relatives, friends or neighbors may be able to spot signs of trouble, but they are often reluctant to get involved. They say it is important to reach out if you suspect a problem.

“Sometimes, that can be the most important person. Most important question in a person’s life is, ‘Are you OK?'” Haney said.

Mahoning County’s Mental Health Court was the first in the state of Ohio to be certified by the Supreme Court of Ohio and has been in operation since 2005. Those convicted of a felony and who qualify can complete the two-year program to have that felony removed from their record.

You can find more information on NAMI on the organization’s website.

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