Isn’t it worth a few dollars to preserve essential mental health services? It would appear that many state legislators would say no.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states have cut a total of $1.6 billion for mental health services over the past three years.
That was just the teaser.
This year, states around the country are making people with mental illness pay the price for tax cuts and deficits.
NAMI state-by-state data show that the State of Florida spends no more for mental health services than it did in 2009. But Health News Florida reports that the Florida Senate has proposed millions of dollars of cuts to mental health.
Next week, its Appropriations Committee will vote whether to cut $137 million from adult mental health services, 57% of the total outpatient budget. Anyone who thinks these services aren’t essential should think again.
On a single day this spring, in addition to offering its full array of group counseling, AA, NA, and individual support services, the only full-time peer drop-in center operated by MHA of Palm Beach County dealt with the death from natural causes of a middle-aged client (people with mental illness die 25 years earlier than normal), a former client’s suicide, a hospital patient discharged to the center for follow-up services, and a person with a traumatic brain injury who had no other place to go.
“Days like this are now common,” commented MHAPBC CEO Pam Gionfriddo, “and will become even more so if policymakers keep cutting.”
Over 5,300 people in central Texas alone will lose services, according to the Austin American Statesman, if a proposed 20% cut in outpatient mental health services goes through. The CEO of Austin’s major service provider said this would add to the suffering of families, and Lynn Lasky Clark, President of Mental Health America of Texas added that those affected would be “devastated.”
Texas already spends 3% less on mental health services than it did in 2009.
Nevada spends 17% less on mental health services than it did in 2009.
But, according to the Las Vegas Sun, the Governor’s proposed budget includes millions of dollars of additional service cuts, including cuts to triage centers in Las Vegas and Reno and to outpatient counseling services.
Sen. Sheila Leslie termed the cuts “a mental health catastrophe.”
Tennessee already spends 10% less on mental health services than it did in 2009.
Now, Tennessee is proposing to cut $31 million more from mental health services, affecting all areas of the state.
The northeast is not immune. New Hampshire has cut mental health funding by 8% in the last two years. This year, the state is considering eliminating all services for two-thirds of the 20,000 people for whom it has responsibility.
Ditto the northwest. Oregon actually added 23% to its state mental health budget the past two years. However, Disability Rights Oregon reports that the state is now proposing cutting mental health services by 30%, costing 45,000 Oregonians access to care.
Let’s call this exactly what it is – public officials across the country pummeling people who are the least able to defend themselves.
The bad economy is a phony excuse.
Even in the Great Depression, state policy makers increased mental health services to meet increased needs. The census of patients served in mental hospitals – the only care option available at the time – grew from 272,252 on January 1, 1929 in 1929 to 321,824 on January 1, 1934, and the number of first admissions – a signal that new needs were being met – rose from 60,500 on January 1, 1929 to 69,368 on January 1, 1933.
Do policymakers really think times are tougher today than they were then?
Most legislators pray to God for enlightenment and compassion at the opening of each session. Here is an excerpt from a Florida Senate prayer this year, offered on March 16th by Monsignor Thomas Skindeleski of Delray Beach:
“Open our minds to better understand the needs of those who have chosen us to serve them. Teach us how to craft laws that will better the lives of millions of people who are counting on our efforts to serve them well. Let justice and peace be foremost in our minds as we endeavor to legislate in ways that will benefit the lives of our people. Direct our efforts to preserve the life and liberty of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
It’s a powerful prayer. I hope our leaders listened.
Don’t smirk. When was the last time we told our own elected officials that we willing to pay taxes to provide services to people with mental illness? Today – before it’s too late – is the day to call, email, or forward this column to a policy leader.
We must add our voices to those of the mental health advocates speaking up for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.Would you like to be notified about new Our Health Policy Matters blogs via email? Just send an email to email@example.com and I'll add you to my list.