A little more than a week after state-level candidates talked about mental health policy at a forum sponsored by the Howard County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, both county executive candidates have released their own ideas for improving mental health services in Howard.
On Monday, Republican candidate Allan Kittleman released a platform entirely focused on the subject.
"Up until now, we have taken mostly a reactive approach to mental health; in other words, only after a crisis strikes an individual, a family, or the community at large do we take action," Kittleman writes in his plan.
In response, Kittleman proposes developing "the most comprehensive needs assessment on mental health ever conducted in any jurisdiction in Maryland" for Howard County.
"Howard County should have a service system that is responsive to the front-end needs of the mentally ill in Howard County," he writes.
Kittleman's platform focuses on three sets of public policy goals: improving access to treatment, reforming the criminal justice system to better respond to people with mental illness who commit crimes and strengthening partnerships among the county and community groups that already focus on mental health.
Among his suggestions are to research the creation of a mental health court as well as taking preventative measures such as expanding early childhood education programs for parents.
Watson, meanwhile, released her own platform on Monday with a broader focus on public safety.
"Today's complex world presents many more challenges to our first responders than even a decade ago. Public safety must be a top priority if we are to meet those challenges and keep Howard County the safe and secure home we love," Watson writes in the introduction to her platform.
Watson's plan seeks to "leverage technology and citizen training for improved emergency response," build relationships between communities and police and continue to invest in current programs, including safety training and specialized programs such as cybercrime and identity theft police units.
"High-profile incidents in the past year, both locally and nationally, have highlighted the critical importance of the role of mental health diagnosis, treatment and response in the community," Watson's campaign writes in a release accompanying the platform rollout. "Watson will oversee the coordination of resources among first responders, the Howard County Health Department, the Mental Health Authority and health care providers to create the most comprehensive safety net available."
Addressing mental health has come to the forefront of policy discussions this year, following a double murder-suicide at the Mall in Columbia in January by a man who police say struggled with mental illness.
This spring, current County Executive Ken Ulman and the County Council approved a budget that allocates $313,700 to mental health initiatives, including a second mobile crisis unit for the county, an officer specifically assigned to mental health matters and a mental health task force charged with identifying ways the county can bridge gaps in mental health services.