I recently read an article in the Phoenix Republic newspaper about the budget cuts to mental health in our state. When these types of cuts are made, what we hear are the savings to the state and the benefit to us as taxpayers. The minute we read cuts to education, medical care, C.P.S. and the many agencies that provide services to women, children, mentally ill and the poor, my friends and I shout “foul”.
While I try to never make my blog political, this particular subject hits close to home. As a mental health counselor and an educator for many years, I always wonder at the short-range thinking of the people in charge. Yes, it’s easy to look at a line-item and say if we cut this, we save this much. And while that is most likely a very concrete and true statement, what will be the ramifications in five years or ten.
The following is an excerpt from an article that ran on September 21 about the effects of the mental health cuts in Arizona:
In Maricopa County, about 3000 people taking brand-name psychotropic medications switched to generic drugs. The most commonly prescribed anti-psychotics, including Seroquel, Geodon, Zyprexa and Risperdal, HAVE NO generic equivalents. Generics often are not as effective, tend to be more sedative and have many side effects according to doctors. One in five families has a member taking these medications.
Everyone receiving state services for a serious mental illness has a case manager, but the budget cuts eliminated that benefit for people without Medicaid. More than 300 case managers and support staff in Maricopa County and hundreds more statewide, lost their jobs as the agencies and clinics adjusted to see fewer patients. The case managers were a lifeline for many of Arizona’s most fragile citizens. They helped navigate complex paperwork and provided a sounding board for daily aggravations. They met people upon their release from jail or psychiatric facilities. They tried to head off suicide attempts and psychotic episodes and made hospital visits. Two case managers remain at each of the country’s 18 clinics to make reminder calls and coordinate appointments for non-Medicaid patients.
The budget cuts put 255 people with serious mental illness in danger of losing housing which often includes 24 hour supervision. Dozens moved into apartments or assisted living facilities while others moved in with family. Some have since been hospitalized, jailed or evicted and ended up in shelters and boarding homes.
Without free bus passes or cab rides, people miss appointments, fail to pick up their prescriptions and may stop going out in public. Symptoms typically worsen when people stop taking medications and isolate themselves.
Thousands have lost access to group and individual therapy, severing relationships they may have had for decades with counselors and support staff. Cognitive behavioral therapy which has shown to benefit the mentally- ill, is now a thing of the past. They no longer learn to relieve internal pain, cope with stress and anxiety and express emotions. Those without Medicaid also no longer have state-funded job training or access to community drop-in centers along with the friendships, support and self-esteem that came with them.
While I’m on my bandwagon today, I will go ahead and yell “foul” on another topic:
We continue to cut education at the same time our President, all of the corporate CEO’s, and our legislators agree that what America is lacking is production, sales, and an educated work-force. We need students who excel in math and science, technology, engineering, and software. We need students who are trained for the jobs of today and the future. All of our economists and our business leaders know what those jobs will be and how to make America viable in the job market once again. And yet, we cut that very base. How are we going to turn this country around in ten years if, during those ten years, we are producing a less educated and ill-prepared work-force? Is Anyone Listening?