Friday, April 1, 2011

States' Budget Woes Affect Those with Mental Disabilities

In this recession, in order to close historic budget gaps states have cut $2.1 billion from their mental health budgets in the last three fiscal years, according to a study from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors’ Research Institute. A new study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that between fiscal years 2009 and 2011, over 12 states and the District of Columbia reduced their mental health budgets by more than 10 percent. The upcoming budgets, however, will be worse. Until this summer, federal stimulus money - which ends this summer - has put $103 billion into the states through Medicaid since 2009 - keeping state-run health insurance programs alive. Meanwhile, growing demands for help show few signs of abating, say mental health authorities. On top of this, there is more demand for the shrinking pool of public services because of unemployment and general economic malaise. "The safety net,” says Marylou Sudders, former Massachusetts commissioner for mental health, “is shredded.”

These cuts hurt those with mental disabilities worse than others. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, while ailments like depression occur in about one in four adults, 6% of the U.S. population has a serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) and mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada. People with severe mental illnesses are more likely to have low incomes because their education was interrupted by the disease, according to Elaine Alfano, deputy policy director for the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Employers are hesitant to hire them and their treatment is expensive, so they cost governments dearly if they qualify for public support.

According to the state directors’ survey in fiscal 2010 and 2011, half the states reported reducing the number of hospital beds in state-run psychiatric hospitals. States have limited the funding they give to out-patient providers and have cut staff. One-third of states have reduced the number of people their programs serve.

Read the March 9, 2011 Center for Public Integrity article: