Three Examples of Sequestration Cutting Into Mental Health Care

How are you affected?

Estimating Impact
Mental Health America projected more than 1.13 million Americans could lose access to any kind of public mental health support.

The White House warned that “up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children could go untreated. This would likely lead to increased hospitalizations, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness for these individuals.”

One article termed the sequester to be a “mental health crisis,” noting that some sequestration-related spending cuts had potential to be more devastating than others, both for individuals and society. For example, “a furlough for a Reston, Virginia, Defense Department worker doesn’t have the same consequences as it does for a young man with severe bipolar disorder waiting an extra month to see a psychiatrist.”


Documenting and Anticipating Impact
Last week, Ron Manderscheid pointed out  the possible consequences of decreased access to mental health services: worsening of symptoms, an increase in disability, loss of employment, divorce and failed relationships, and shorter lifespan (by as much as 25 years). These consequences aren’t inevitable, but sequestration makes them more likely. As The American Prospect observed, “the untreated mentally ill are the least able to navigate bureaucratic mazes to find other resources and the most likely to deteriorate quickly when services dry up.”

In the past month, reports of spending cuts have already surfaced:

Three Case Studies

  1. The closing of the Bill Brady Healing Center eliminates the availability of residential drug and alcohol treatment for Alaska Natives in Sitka, Alaska.
  2. To meet the spending cuts under sequestration, the military is implementing once-a-week furloughs for civilian workers, affecting the availability of mental health and behavioral health professionals who were hired to help the military address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health needs. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson expressed concerns over the military’s ability over the long-term to provide mental health services for officers.
  3. As a result of sequestration, the current four-month wait to enter the First Step substance abuse residential treatment program in Salt Lake City, UT, could extend to six months or more. County officials project that up to 152 people may not receive needed substance abuse treatment, and 19 might not have access to mental health treatment.

What does this mean on the broader scale, across the 50 states?
It’s not clear how we are going to be able to accurately measure the impacts of sequestration. Sure, we could count how many workers are laid off or furloughed, which facilities are shuttered or reduce their hours, and the difference between the number of clients served this year versus years prior. We won’t know how many people got divorced, experienced more severe health problems, committed crimes, or died by suicide because mental health and substance abuse treatments were delayed or denied as a result of these indiscriminate budget cuts.

As its premise, Care for Your Mind™ believes that what matters most is how policies affect people, and that’s why your stories and feedback are so important to our community.

How has sequestration affected you and others you know? Comment below and be sure to tell us where you live. Politicians and policymakers need to know that their actions—and inactions—are having significant impacts on real people.

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