The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) recently published a reference guide, State Mental Health Legislation 2015: Trends, Themes and Effective Practices, to help all who care about individuals affected by mental illness assess policymaking in the past year.
The report came while states are recovering from the overwhelming economic recession that caused a $4.35 billion cut from the mental healthcare system. At the same time, public awareness of mental health has increased drastically amid mass shootings and the death of Robin Williams.
Both good news and bad news emerged from state legislative sessions in 2015.
The bad news
The number of states to increase their financial investment in mental health services has declined. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy three years ago, 36 states and the District of Columbia increased mental health spending in 2013. In 2014, the number dropped to 29. This year, only 23 states increased their mental health budgets.
Budget cuts in mental health care come with costs. The impact includes people with mental illness who often end up in emergency rooms, jail or on the street.
The good news
Despite budget cuts, many states continue to recognize the need for mental health care reforms and some have enacted legislation that can serve as models for other states. Congress has also initiated mental health care reform legislation to provide a comprehensive framework.
The report surveys legislation by topic and marks with gold stars those that NAMI considers notable, worth serving as models for other states. Thirty-five states adopted one or more measures in 2015 that received gold stars.
Five states passed bills that stood out as the top five measures of the year.
“As a behavioral health provider that relies on commercial insurance and private pay, Sovereign does not benefit directly from state funding initiatives. However, we do benefit from the decreased stigma that is generated when states expand access to mental health alongside drug and alcohol treatment,” stated Anthony Mele, Psy.D., chief clinical officer of the Sovereign Health Group.
“The work of NAMI in reducing stigma and expanding access to behavioral health care is a national success story.”
The report is intended to serve as an advocacy tool for state leaders and all who share a desire to strengthen mental health care systems that for too long have been fragmented and in perpetual crisis. The goal is to improve lives affected by mental illness by providing a coordinated, cost-effective recovery system.
Despite considerable debate about the broken mental health system in America, the response of states, as illustrated in this report, has been uneven at most. Some states have increased funding for mental health services and passed legislation to ensure effectiveness. Other states are barely surviving or even backstepping by cutting mental health funding.
When mental health services are cut, the inevitable consequence is more spending on homelessness, criminal justice and crisis services. It is time for all states to invest in recovery.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health center working tirelessly for those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. If you or a loved one is in distress, contact us right away through our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer