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The Government Shutdown’s Impact on Mental Health Programs

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful, week-long trip to Maine. We’d wanted to visit Acadia National Park for quite a while, and months of planning were invested in our itinerary.

Then, a week before our departure, the government shut down – and that meant that Acadia shut down too. We were incredulous that this could happen just days before our much-anticipated trip. Fortunately, once we arrived in Maine, we received plenty of local advice about public roads that ran through the park that couldn’t be closed. Hallelujah! We were able to see the park after all.

While our vacation had a happy ending, many other aspects of life have been sent into a tailspin because of the shutdown, and they may not enjoy such flowery conclusions. In fact, the bad news keeps on coming for services people depend on such as health care, welfare, and mental health programs.

Unfortunately, mental health care doesn’t get as much media attention as other types of social services. If you’ve been wondering how the government shutdown is impacting mental health care, here’s a rundown of its deleterious effects:

  • Mental health services for low-income Americans. According to an article in the Washington Times, low-income residents of Washington DC may lose access to mental health services because the DC Department of Health Care Finance won’t be able to make its next Medicare payment. While this was a local article, it speaks to a national crisis given that Medicare is a federal program that fuels community mental health services around the country.
  • National Institutes of Mental Health. It’s closed. Not sure why this is a big deal? Consider that NIMH funds and conducts both basic and clinical research into the causes, treatments, and prevention of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. With NIMH shut down, both ongoing and future research is in jeopardy. Don’t forget that real people are enrolled in clinical trials and may be depending on treatments that have provided them with the first real relief in their whole lives.
  • Head Start. According to an article in the New York Times, the only reason Head Start programs are still running in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi is because a generous Houston couple donated $10 million to the National Head Start Program in order to keep programs running that had closed or were about to close because of the government shutdown. Head Start provides key resources and programs for autistic children and kids with other mental health challenges.

If you’re as incensed about this as I am, please speak out to your representatives and encourage them to find a way to end this madness so that our country can access the mental health care services it needs and deserves.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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