Thu January 13, 2011
Tucson Shooting And Mental Health Cuts In 2011 Texas Legislative Session
The first wave of political rhetoric to follow Saturday's shooting in Tucson, Arizona speculated on whether Jared Loughner was influenced by far right extremism or socialist dogma. In reality, it is likely that neither is true.
The next round of political discussion is focusing on the state of mental health care in America, and whether more of it could have averted such a tragedy. Arizona reduced mental health spending by 37 percent in 2010, or $36 million, according to Stateline. As KUT reported last week, mental health workers in Texas are bracing for $128 million in cuts they anticipate as the state legislature tries to close a budget gap of between $15 billion and $27 billion.
Multiple reports have characterized Loughner as an obviously troubled individual who fell through the mental health cracks in a state with some of the lowest spending on mental health services in the country.
Today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram draws a line from Tucson to Austin in quoting the Texas Medical Association on the proposed budget cuts for Texas mental health services.
"It's an under-served population, and sadly, lately, we've seen all too tragically how improper treatment of those with chronic mental health problems can have a devastating effect on a community," said Texas Medical Association President Susan R. Bailey.
Texas, which ranks 49th in the nation for the amount it spends per person for mental health, is already at bare bones, Bailey said.
"Any further cuts will have potentially catastrophic effects," she said.
The Wichita Falls Times Record News ran an op-ed today arguing how the Loughner shooting highlights the need for greater investment in mental health care.
In Texas and almost every other state, mental health program budgets have been cut and recut to the point that law enforcement agencies are warning legislators of consequences in increased crime and cost to incarcerate those who would have otherwise benefitted from timely, less expensive MHMR services.
This discussion is being picked up in national media too. Here is a sample.
- Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes in today's paper how the crack through which many mentally ill people fall has widened.
- John Hopkins University psychiatrist Larry Wissow writes in the Baltimore Sun that major barriers exist to getting mental care to people, like Loughner, who obviously need it.
- Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain warns California legislators against making cuts to mental health services.
- Offering an outside perspective, the Toronto Star tells its readers that mental health care workers in the U.S. are praying for reinforcements.