Despite mass shootings and prominent deaths linked to mental illness in recent years, a growing number of states have cut funding for mental healthcare and reform, a report published Tuesday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found. Resources have been cut despite calls from elected officials to improve mental healthcare and policy changes aimed at destigmatizing and increasing access to such care, especially in the wake of a deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
The report also found that fewer states were increasing funding for mental health services. In 2015, 23 states increased spending for mental health, down from 29 in 2014 and 36 in 2013. During those years, state funding for mental health services had been recovering in the wake of the global recession of 2008, but in 2015, such support appears to have waned. This year, "state mental health funding once again took a hit as governors and state legislators tangled over taxes and spending priorities," the report said, and since 2013, only 11 states have steadily increased such funding year over year.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a grassroots mental health advocacy organization based in Arlington, Virginia, that for three years has tracked state budgets for mental health services. Its report frequently blamed "ugly political wrangling" and fighting for the decrease in funding for psychiatric services and institutions, mental health centers and mental health providers. In Florida, for instance, "the governor had proposed a nearly $22 million increase to the state mental health budget. Infighting in the Legislature left the state with a modest increase for community mental health services -- hardly enough to offset the massive cuts that have taken place in previous years," the report noted.
— Intl. Business Times (@IBTimes) December 3, 2015
The report also highlighted positive steps that some states have made in investing in mental health services. New Hampshire "substantially" increased its funding, although the state was driven to do so in part by a federal lawsuit over insufficient community mental health services in the state. With the funding, New Hampshire is set to improve housing and employment opportunities for people with mental illness, the Associated Press reported.
Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook shooting took place, is one of the 11 states to have increased funding each year, according to the report.
But others warn that simply examining or comparing numbers can be misleading about the quality and quantity of services offered or whether those services actually meet patients' needs. In Connecticut, which has both state-operated and not-for-profit human services agencies, state-operated services are more expensive, sucking up more funding, and many specialty services have been added while fundamental ones have been cut, said Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, a nonprofit group in central and eastern Connecticut that provides services for mental illness, substance abuse and other issues, the Hartford Courant reported.
"Compared to many other states, [Connecticut] is a well-funded service system," Gates said. "It does not mean the most well-funded service system in the country is adequately funded."
The report also noted that popular awareness of mental illness has "increased dramatically" in recent years, citing Sandy Hook, in which the shooter was suspected to have had untreated mental illnesses, and the death of Robin Williams, the actor and comedian, who committed suicide in 2014 after years of combating addiction and depression.