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Budget Cuts and Mental Health Care

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Just after the deadly shootings of young children in Connecticut, politicians and journalists were calling for ways to identify and treat those mentally ill who could pose a threat to the community. The thinking on the part of those politicians, mostly conservative, was that shootings could be prevented by providing more services the mentally ill. All of this was in response to the President’s call for gun control. Setting aside the fact that it’s ridiculous to blame the mentally ill for violence because they are no more likely to be violent than the average population, it is interesting to look at the hypocrisy and irony in terms of what is happening now.

In an article of July 25 2013, The New York Times reported that Salt Lake City’s largest clinic that provides mental health care to the poor will be closing it’s doors. Patients took cold comfort in being told that they will be transferred to other providers elsewhere in the state. In other words, patients who have been under the care of a particular psychiatrist and psychotherapist for many years, find themselves cut off from the mental health professionals who they have always relied on for their mental health. Mentally ill clients form intense and trusting relationships to their mental health providers and that includes psychiatrists and other psychotherapists. In fact that trust is difficult to establish for people who have paranoid symptoms or who find it difficult to establish any relationship.

Of course the reason for the closing has to do with budget cuts. This is a situation that is not isolated to one stated but that is happening all across the nation. The irony and hypocrisy of the situation is that, after calling preventive measures of violence, mental health centers are being closed, not only in Utah but around the nation. For example:

“According the Treatment Advocacy Center, budget cuts to mental health means that nearly 9,000 homeless people with mental illness across the nation will lose social services and outreach programs that put them on a path to transition to permanent homes. These issues are very troubling given the fact that a federal survey conducted in 2005 estimated that approximately 500,000 people are homeless in the United States at any given time, and one-third of those individuals have a serious mental illness.”

America cannot afford to have 1.13 million children and adults at risk of losing access to any type of public mental health service, and more than 320,000 children miss out on coordinated mental health services, early intervention and prevention programming, and other suicide prevention services. It would be a shame to have 230,000 individuals with mental illness lose access to treatment and prevention services. It would also be devastating to have 169,000 fewer individuals admitted to substance-abuse treatment programs or to decrease the number of effective teen dating violence-prevention programs that could result in increased psychological and sexual abuse for our teens.

Perhaps what is most troubling of all about these budget cuts is that they target Medicaid patients who form the poorest people in the country.

Do not allow your community to be left without mental health services. If you want to help please contact your local Congressman and ask for increased funding for mental health services.

What are your thoughts about budget cuts and mental illness?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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