On Tuesday, Gus Deeds, son of former Virginia gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), allegedly stabbed his father multiple times before turning a gun on himself and committing suicide. The younger Deeds had a psychiatric exam performed under an emergency custody order the previous day, but was ultimately released because there were no psychiatric beds available for his use in western Virginia.
In fact, an ongoing trend of state governments slashing funds for mental health programs has greatly diminished the number of beds available to Americans with serious mental illnesses, including those who need emergency inpatient care.
“Many states appear to be effectively terminating a public psychiatric treatment system that has existed for nearly two centuries,” wrote researchers in a 2012 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit group that examines mental health issues. “The system was originally created to protect both the patients and the public, and its termination is taking place with little regard for the consequences to either group.”
According to the report, Virginia eliminated 15 percent of its public psychiatric beds between 2005 and 2010. The state has just 17.6 such beds per 10,000 people — less than 40 percent of the recommended minimum 50 beds per 10,000 people. That didn’t stop Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) from proposing even more cuts to mental health programs in 2012.
But McDonnell isn’t the only one to embrace such cuts. In fact, state governments across the nation slashed psychiatric funding to the point that, overall, the nation’s hospitals had just 28 percent of the recommended minimum number of hospital beds by 2010. Those reductions continued in the following years as states slashed $4.35 billion in mental health services between 2009 and 2012, forcing State Mental Health Agencies (SMHAs) to shutter mental health hospitals and eliminate nearly 10 percent of total available beds in those three years alone:
CREDIT: NASMHPD Research Institute, Inc
Mental health advocates often argue that community-based care is more effective than institutionalizing a mental health patient in state facilities. But state governments haven’t been nearly as amenable to funding community-based mental health programs as they have been to closing state wards and cutting funding. As a result, Americans with serious mental illnesses often wind up in jails rather than hospitals.
In a sad bit of irony, Sen. Deeds himself has long been a strong proponent of enhanced funding for community-based mental health programs. He is currently listed as being in “fair” condition at the University of Virginia Medical Center.