Jared Loughner, Mental Illness, & Arizona Mental Health Budget Cuts

Believe me I have other stuff to talk about besides Jared Loughner. But my recent post has taken a life of its own and has even expanded the conversation onto my Twitter Time Line. As I mentioned recently, the focus on right-wing political rhetoric (as if my fellow lefties never express irrational thought) minimizes the issue of mental health services and the people who need them. Some of whom are poor black folks.

Having said that, I came across a very interesting interview thanks to the good folks at Democracy Now! with H. Clark Romans, of the National Alliance on Mental Health of Southern Arizona. The discussion focuses on just how recent budget cuts by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, has affected the many lives of of mentally diagnosed patients within the state, in this dire economy.
It’s unclear if Loughner either needed or sought mental-health care in the Tucson area, where he lived. But for those suffering from mental illness, Arizona has become a challenging state to live in. The state has seen a $65 million drop since 2008 in behavioral health services for Arizonans who don’t qualify for the state’s version of Medicaid, representing a 51 percent reduction over the last three fiscal years, according the Arizona Department of Health Services and a detailed December report on health care in the Arizona Daily Star. Some $36 million was slashed early last year, and Gov. Jan Brewer called the cuts, which affected some 12,000 adults and 2,000 children, “tough” and “painful,” according to The Arizona Republic, which also has reported that she has dealt personally with mental illness in her family.

Arizona’s budget woes are not unique—other states are confronting cuts to mental-health services and corresponding problems for local police. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, a friend of Rep. Giffords and her family, told The Daily Beast that calls to fix America’s mental-health-care system are missing the point. Integration of care is vital, he said: “We don’t have a mental-health system in the U.S. We have good professionals, but we don’t have an integrated common policy, and with cuts like this, there will be more problems in a system already strained.”

Carmona said the “opportunity cost” of decisions to cut care must be examined, both in Arizona and nationwide, and he asked, “What will it cost us in terms of the cost of putting more people in prisons and jails?” (Source: The Daily Beast)It’s not clear if Loughner was himself diagnosed as mental patient; however, from all accounts of friends and classmates, he was definitely disturbed and possibly should have been receiving the necessary medical care. For me, having had relatives diagnosed with mental illnesses, this is a very huge issue; some won’t admit to this with their family members, but that’s a problem in and of itself. I also have a very good friend and roommate from college who I’ve observed spiraling out of control over a number of years. He finally decided to get help after several stints which involved jail; and he now proudly admits to being schizophrenic, and is on medication living a “normal” life: