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States make deep cuts in mental health funding

States desperate to cut costs during the recent recession have slashed non-Medicaid spending for mental health care by more than $1.8 billion since 2009, diminishing access to necessary services for the mentally ill, a new report says.

Illinois alone reduced its mental health funding by $114 million between 2009 and 2011, behind only California, Kentucky and New York, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported Wednesday.

Rather than saving money in the long-term, the cuts will force people with untreated mental illness into higher-cost settings, such as hospital emergency rooms, correctional facilities and homeless shelters, NAMI Illinois executive director Lora Thomas said.

“We need to be educated and smart enough to realize that costs don’t diminish in any way when we reduce treatment,” she said.

The lack of adequate funding for mental health services in Illinois is especially troubling in light of recent mass shootings in Arizona and at Northern Illinois University that involved alleged gunmen with a history of mental illness, Thomas said.

“The way we deter things from happening is to make sure treatment is accessible on an ongoing basis,” she said, citing the need for more funding for community-based housing, wellness checks and other vital services.

Medicaid is the largest single source of funding for mental health services, but state general revenue funds are an important safety net.

Deeper cuts to mental health funding are expected nationwide over the next two years, particularly after a temporary increase in federal Medicaid funding expires this summer, the report said.

Already, only about half of people who need treatment for mental illness receive it.



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