Mental Health Funding Cuts: What You Need to Know
Just three years after the Sandy Hook shooting and subsequent tragedies spurred a national conversation about improving access to and increasing funding for mental health services, twelve states decreased funding. These include Alaska, North Carolina and Wyoming, which have steadily reduced mental health funding over the past three years. Kentucky and Arkansas increased funding in 2013 but reduced it in both 2014 and 2015.
This information comes from a 2015 report from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), which reveals that only eleven states have consistently increased funding since 2013 — Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington.
Overall Mental Health Funding on the Decline
2015 marks the third year in a row that the U.S. has seen a decline in the number of states willing to increase funding for mental health. States cut $4.35 billion from the mental health care system during the economic recession, and the Pew Charitable Trust points out that in many states, funding has not yet been restored to pre-recession levels.
The Treatment Advocacy Center notes that these mental health budget cuts are resulting in further reduction of already-scarce mental hospital beds, the closure of mental hospitals and the elimination of prescription drug coverage for low-income patients.
While the states that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act led to 7.5 million new Medicaid enrollees who now have access to mental health services, many of those states have used the Medicaid expansion as justification for reducing funding for community mental health services.
A Defeat in the Fight Against Suicide
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) responded to the NAMI report by pointing out that two of the states that have cut the most funding—Wyoming and Alaska—are also among the states that have the highest rates of suicide. The Foundation points out that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of death.
The current trend of mental health funding cuts reduces the likelihood that people will have access to mental health services, leading to a worsened condition. The Foundation also points out that adequately funding mental health services will not only improve countless lives but will also reduce societal costs associated with lost productivity, emergency room visits and incarceration.
The Good News
NAMI's report isn't without a few bright spots in an otherwise bleak picture. The report highlights a number of pieces of legislation that will help improve mental health systems and make it easier for citizens to access their services:
- Arizona - passed a bill that offers rental assistance to people with serious mental illnesses
- Minnesota - passed legislation that makes it easier for young people to manage psychosis and improve their lives
- Utah - passed a bill that improves mental health treatments for inmates and develops alternatives to incarceration
- Virginia - made it easier for mental health professionals to quickly find a hospital bed for patients in need
A Long Way to Go
There is still a long way to go before mental health services are adequately funded. Concerned American citizens should write letters to their elected officials in support of mental health funding and vote for legislators who are concerned about the plight of those who have a mental illness and limited resources. Donate time or money to community projects that aim to improve community mental health services and continue to voice your support for financial and legislative measures that will help ensure that all citizens have theaccess to mental health care that they need in order to live productive, healthy lives.