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Disability Action Center NW

Most care for Idaho’s mentally ill is in prisons

By Katie Short, Daily News staff writer   May 22, 2017

Jails and prisons are Idaho’s largest providers of mental health treatment, and that’s not right, Michael Sandvig, president of Idaho’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, told a conference Saturday at the University of Idaho.

“Mental illness is a disease, not a choice,” he said.

Sandvig said that in most cases incarceration is not where people with mental health problems belong, adding that without the illnesses many of these people would never have committed a crime.

“The behaviors are a symptom of the illness,” said Sandvig.

Sharlisa Davis, who set up the event, said that her goal is to bring awareness to the community about the grassroots NAMI program and the support it provides those who are diagnosed with a mental illness.

“We want them to know they are not alone,” she said.

Davis said the conference was supported by Latah County Recovery Center, the Disability Action Center, Optum, Vandal Health and several other mental health agencies in the area.

The conference had “breakout” sessions on everyday mindfulness of health and well-being, suicide prevention, recovery and resiliency, adult and children’s mental health, support systems, and early diagnosis of autism.

More than 120 people registered for the all-day event, both professionals and community members.


John Tanner and his wife, who attended the conference, were seeking information on community support.

They first noticed a decline in their son’s mental health when he was 19 years old. At age 24, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After many years of on and off stability, the Tanners believe they have finally found the right combination of support and medication for their son’s long-term mental health.

“We worry about when we die,” said Tanner. Their now 45-year-old son continues to require care.

The family will need to decide if the mental health care community can provide enough support for their son, or if one of his siblings will need to move closer to provide the care needed.

“They have lives, kids and jobs, though,” said Tanner.

Katie Short can be reached at (208) 883-4633, or by email to