Budget cuts impact mental health

Published 12:05 am Friday, May 16, 2014

Private tragedies happen every day among the mentally ill and their families, while politicians blindly slash funds for mental health.

For the past 30 years, I have worked with the Adams County Chancery Court and Southwest Mississippi Mental Health as the “Special Master” (Judge) for involuntary commitments of those suffering from serious mental illness.

All too often, we have seen the families of our patients suffer because we have no place to turn for in-patient treatment of the mentally ill. We have lost patients to suicide while they were waiting for treatment. We have seen families hurt and even killed by psychotic family members awaiting placement.

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According to an article in USA TODAY, suicide claims the lives of 38,000 Americans each year. That is more than auto accidents and more than homicides. According to the Center for Disease Control, at least 90 percent of suicides are related to mental illness.

On average, people with mental illness die up to 23 years sooner than other Americans.

Thomas Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 44 percent of those receiving federal disability payments suffer from mental illness.

Patients with mental illness wind up in emergency rooms, homeless shelters, or jail, because there is no place for them to be treated.

There are almost 10 million mentally ill people in the United States. Probably more.

Yet the number of free-standing psychiatric hospitals has decreased from 662 in 1995 to only 416 today. Even worse, only 1,254 general hospitals have psychiatric units, as compared to 1,507 in 1995, according go the American Hospital Association survey of hospitals.

Why? You ask.

Budget cuts.

When the politicians in the legislatures look to make budget cuts, the first place they slash is mental health. It seems to be such an easy target.

But early intervention could prevent some of the tragedies of mental illness, and successful treatment could avert many of the mass shootings and other public and private tragedies resulting from the actions of the mental patient.

Nevertheless, our legislatures refuse to provide the funding essential to helping the very patients who need our help the most. And, ironically, many of these same patients wind up in jail, where the cost to treat and house them is even greater than the cost of good mental health treatment would have been in the first place.

Legislators fail to realize that providing good mental health services to mentally ill patients would actually cut the number of people who have to be imprisoned or jailed. Some say by as much at 78 percent, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Good treatment is the answer; incarceration is not. Yes, I realize that providing good mental health service is expensive.

Neglecting the mentally ill is even more costly.


Jack Lazarus is the appointed Special Master handling all Adams County involuntary commitment hearings.