Clearly, Americans are just plain tired or perhaps more accurately hopeless. We hardly blinked when Congress once again failed us, allowing sequestration to take effect, an act which just a year ago seemed catastrophic and impossible. By this February we knew what was up. Congress went on break and came back with barely a hint that it would act. To soften the blow, many argued that the effects of the cuts weren’t really going to be that bad, not as bad as President Obama predicted.
But as a mom and advocate for those with mental illness, I’m concerned about what sequestration means for those with mental illness and their families. Just last week, I blogged about the vital need for improved mental health care in light of the Newtown and Aurora shootings. And the outcry has been loud from others – our legislators, our health care professional. But how can we expect improvements in mental health care treatment when programs, underfunded for decades, will be cut even further?
Under the sequester, 373,000 children and adults with serious mental illness will lose services that help prevent hospitalization, homelessness, and incarceration. In addition, estimates indicate that 200,000 Americans will lose access to substance-abuse treatment and 8,900 mentally ill homeless people will be cut off from outreach programs that provide shelter and treatment.
It piles insult onto injury. Over the past three years, state mental health budgets have been cut by a combined $4 billion. That in spite of the fact that one in every four Americans lives with a mental health condition and some 70-80% of adults and children do not receive treatment.
Whatever happened to our belief that as citizens we must care for the most vulnerable among us? It’s not just a failing for those who need help, it’s a failing for all of us. It affects our quality of life, our community environments, and our pocketbooks as we pay for homelessness, increased prison populations, and the pressure on emergency rooms.
How can we be so shortsighted? Further cuts will be devastating to communities and to those living with mental illness. They threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families.