How Budget Cuts are Affecting Mental Health Care

September 22, 2016
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Recent budget cuts have left mental health professionals scrambling to keep up with the influx of patients who have been displaced from outpatient treatment centers, hospitals, and other mental health facilities. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the industry is fighting to raise awareness about how budget cuts affect everyone who is affected by mental health crises.

Prevention is Key to Saving Lives

Recent budget cuts have left mental health professionals scrambling to keep up with the influx of patients who have been displaced from outpatient treatment centers, hospitals, and other mental health facilities. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the industry is fighting to raise awareness about how budget cuts affect everyone who is affected by mental health crises.

Prevention is Key to Saving Lives

Nearly one in four adults in the United States will suffer through a mental health crisis this year. Of that number, only a small fraction will seek professional medical help, and even fewer will follow through with a treatment program that will ensure lifelong management of the condition. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut more than $5 billion in funding for mental health treatment facilities, outpatient programs, and mental health practitioners.

The most severely ill suffer the most. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of beds in psychiatric facilities decreased by 14 percent, leaving many former patients without adequate care facilities. Mental health professionals feel that these cuts represent a public health crisis that requires immediate action.

Mental Health Budget Cuts Create Public Health Hazards

With nowhere to go, many of the mentally ill end up in hospital emergency rooms where they get little care for their illnesses. Because hospital emergency rooms are equipped to deal with general health crises, many lack the staff on hand to adequately deal with mental health emergencies. The average person who visits an emergency room in the midst of a mental health crisis spends less than five minutes in a treatment room with a physician.

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Many of these sufferers are uninsured, costing hospitals nearly $40 billion in fees. The United States spends nearly $444 billion on mental health care, a number that is steadily increasing each year.

The Link Between Mental Health, Crime, and Homelessness

With nowhere to turn for help, many of the mentally ill end up homeless. This homelessness leads to petty crime and substance abuse, increasing the need for police and eventually emergency room services. Sadly, many of the mentally ill who are released from crowded emergency rooms will go on to commit suicide this year.

Innovative Solutions are Making a Difference

Many states are testing pilot programs that are decreasing the burden on hospitals and increasing the number of people getting long-term help for their mental health issues. Many hospitals are creating standalone psychiatric emergency rooms that are equipped to provide special treatment to those in crisis. Other states provide a teleconferencing option that allows sufferers waiting in an emergency room to talk to a mental health professional remotely, decreasing the need for medical care by on-site physicians. Still, other states are instituting programs that provide emergency psychiatric care in outpatient centers.

Suicide is one of the most preventable consequences of untreated mental illness, yet budget cuts mean that the rate of suicide will continue to increase. With innovative new programs helping to decrease the number of patients visiting emergency rooms, there is hope. During the month of September, mental health professionals work to make mental illness suicide a thing of the past. To learn more about these effects, check out the infographic below created by Cummings Institute.

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