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Mental Health Cuts: NAMI Fights Back

By Bob Carolla, Director of Media Relations

Building on concern that flowed from the Arizona Tragedy earlier this year, NAMI has succeeded in having major news media focus once again on the nation's mental health crisis.

In a special report, State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis, NAMI mapped the depth of mental health cuts that have occurred even as the need for help has increased because of the nation's economic distress and troops returning home from war.

The NAMI report made headlines nationwide and was carried on broadcast media, including The Today Show, thanks to circulation by the Associated Press and other newswires.

Two-thirds of states cut mental health care during fiscal years 2009 to 2012. Nineteen states managed to increase mental health budgets during the same three years, but for 12 of them, the increases totaled four percent or less. On a percentage basis, Alaska, South Carolina and Arizona have made the deepest cuts, followed by the District of Columbia, Nevada, Kansas, California, Illinois, Mississippi and Hawaii. The "highest to lowest" list of states appears in Appendix II of the report.

"State mental health cuts are a national crisis," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "Some states are trying to hold the line or make progress, but most are cutting deep."

Cuts are continuing in spite of the intense national concern about the mental health care system that followed the Arizona tragedy. In all states, the budget squeeze will only get worse because of the expiration of enhanced federal Medicaid support in June 2011. Oregon, for example, which increased mental health by $57.4 million over three years, will lose $156 million because of the expiration.

NAMI is using the report to support grassroots advocacy in states where budget decisions currently are being made. For example, are you reading right now this story about the report? Please click here to send a message to your own elected officials.

Budget cuts aren't just stories about numbers-lives are at risk.

"Cutting mental health means costs get shifted to emergency rooms, schools, police, local courts, jails and prisons," Fitzpatrick said. "The taxpayer still pays the bill."

"Mental health cuts mean that clinics, crisis centers and hospitals close. Admissions are frozen. Emergency room visits increase. Where services remain, staff is cut, wait times for appointments are stretched and when people finally are seen, it's for shorter amounts of time.

"Cuts mean people don't get the right help in the right place at the right time. Communities suffer and families break under the strain. Some people end up living on the street or dead."

The report focuses primarily on non-Medicaid mental health services, which are financed with state general funds and provided through state mental health agencies. It is the part of the mental health system that state legislatures have the most control over.

The report makes five priority recommendations:

  • Protect state mental health funding and restore budget cuts, but tie funding to performance.
  • Maintain adequate numbers of inpatient beds for psychiatric treatment.
  • Invest in research on early detection and intervention in the treatment of serious mental illness in youth and adults.
  • Implement mental health screening and assessment programs.
  • Support programs designed to educate families, peers and the public about serious mental illness and how to respond to people living with mental illness.