Sunday, September 19, 2010

So Now We're in Danger: The Impact of Destroying Mental Health Services

Everyone agrees that our mental health system is broken. But is it now putting the community in danger?

Last week I attended an excellent forum at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Ohio's budget, which, as the forum title noted, is now mostly composed of  bubblegum and duct tape.  The Center for Community Solutions handed out a booklet titled "Thinking the Unthinkable: Finding Common Group for Resolving Ohio's Fiscal Crisis." 

Page 28 attracted my attention, as it was the first time I've seen anyone admit on paper that our mental health system is not only broken, but that, as a result, our situation is "dangerous."

The Center writes, "A combination of historical factors, together with the impact of economic decline on demand for mental health and alcohol and drug addiction services, have brought (the behavorial health) system to the brink of failure and collapse."  The factors listed include:

  • Common restrictions on mental health benefits in private insurance.
  • Impact of the major deinstitutionalization during the late 20th century.
  • Growth in incarceration and the high rates of mental illness among prisoners.
  • Federal policies that exclude adults below age 65 from coverage for services in state hospitals.
(Another factor could be the tendency to balance budgets on the backs of the mentally ill.  I'm just saying.)

The Center called for stabilizing Ohio's mental health treatment by relieving Ohio's local Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Service Boards from providing Medicaid matching funds for community-based behavioral health services, saying that will "stabilize precarious, if not dangerous, situations in communities across Ohio."

Ohio is flat broke, and it will take more than reading Suze Orman to get the state back on track. Still the cuts to mental health have actually given the state a greater financial burden if only because so many of the mentally ill end up without medicine and in prison. It makes financial sense to keep people stable and out of jail, even if you never measure the humanitarian aspect of this.

The Center called for immediate action to stabilize public behavioral health services as well as a thorough assessment of the system's future role in light of health care reform.

While it is hard to read that the situation has become dangerous, it is good to know that someone is paying attention to the damage that the cuts to mental health have caused. 

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