Neglecting mental health

Funding cuts cause even more harm to a sector that has already been damaged by neglect

The author of the Newtown massacre was a young man with mental disorders who had access in his home to the weapons he used to kill 27 people at an elementary school.

It is known that the murderer’s mother was an avid shooter and an apparent supporter of the Prepper movement, which prepares to survive a catastrophe by accumulating resources.

It is obvious that mixing firearms and the mentally disturbed is a recipe for disaster. Before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, it was a mentally disturbed person who went on a killing spree at Virginia Tech; the same was true of the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords in Arizona and the one who shot up a Colorado movie theater.

That is why we are now concerned about the deterioration that the mental health care system has suffered for decades in the U.S.

It all began with the elimination of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which established an expansion of services, research, training and patient care, allocating funds for all. The measure recognized the social stigma that exists against patients and acts as an impediment to requesting and receiving services.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan and his conservative revolution destroyed the law and decreased the funding, turning it into a block grant to the states that was used to continue old policies or dedicated to something else. As a result, thousands of mental patients wound up in a state of neglect.

Thirty years later, nothing has been done on a federal level to improve the system. On the contrary, the situation has worsened due to the economic crisis that resulted from the Great Recession.

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors estimated that at least $4.35 billion were cut from these programs between 2009 and 2012. Program and staff cuts in the mental health area are now routine around the country.

This is a serious matter, given the mental health problems the population is experiencing. Federal authorities estimate that 46% of Americans suffer some type of diagnosable mental illness during their lifetime; one of every 100 adults suffers from schizophrenia and almost 17% have battled major depression at one time.

We hope the recent school tragedy helps focus attention on numerous factors that contributed to it, in order to prevent its repetition. That list must include deficiencies in the mental health system.