State Mental Health Services Have Been Cut By Billions During The Great Recession

Gun control is not the only topic that’s been catapulted to the forefront of the national conversation by the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The tragedy has also brought renewed attention to what aid and support the United States provides to the mentally ill. On the second matter as well as the first, the record is not good.

According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, flagged by The Washington Post, states cumulatively cut over $1.8 billion from their mental health services from 2009 to 2011. Another report by the the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors put the number as high as $4.35 billion from 2009 to 2012, according to Huffington Post. (The first report did not include Medicaid budgets, though it’s not clear if the second report did.) With a 35 percent cut to its overall state mental health budget, Alaska has seen the worst of it. South Carolina and Arizona both saw cuts of 23 percent, and plenty of other states have seen significant cut backs as well:

It’s the largest reduction in state mental health services seen since the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 sought to officially de-institutionalize mental health treatment by moving towards prescription medication, outpatient services, and other approaches that allow patients to remain in their communities.

Unfortunately, there’s evidence that funding for these other services never quite caught up with the needs of patients who used to be confined to institutions. As a result, the prison system has in many ways become the de facto safety net for the mentally ill: A study by the Justice Department in 2006 found that 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates suffered from some form of mental health problem. More broadly, more than 60 percent of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder and 70 percent of children were not receiving the mental health services they needed, according to a 2011 report by the Kaiser Foundation.