We have been asked a number of questions about the Department of Mental Health budget over the past few weeks. Our responses are below. Please feel free to contact us if you have additional feedback.
What is the crisis with mental health funding? In its 2017 session, the Mississippi State Legislature reduced the annual budget for the Department of Mental Health from approximately $600,000,000 to $585,000,000, although various people interpret the numbers differently. The Board of the Department of Mental Health then allocated the money. Mental health care should be adequately funded, but it is crucial that we examine both the adequacy and the allocation of funds. Most funds, even after the cuts, went to the twelve state-run institutions.
What is the most helpful way to use mental health funds? Institutional care is very costly, and there is little, if any, objective evidence that it helps people. A wide range of services in the community that allow people to work, go to school, and be with their friends and family while they get treatment means almost all people with mental illness can get better outside of institutions. Institutions are then freed up for people who genuinely need them - for example, people with mental illness who are incarcerated.
- How do other states allocate mental health funds? States across the country, including those that neighbor Mississippi, have moved services to the community. Arkansas, similar to Mississippi in demographics and population, has only one state-run institution and spends most of its mental health money locally. It also leverages federal funds for community services. If Mississippi did the same, it would likely have nearly one billion dollars each year for community services.
Why is Mississippi being sued by the Justice Department? In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unlawful to segregate people with mental illness in institutions due to them not having the right kind of help in the community. States were then mandated to develop services for people with mental illness who wanted to move out of institutions. In 2016, after a prolonged investigation and then five years of costly negotiations that failed, the Justice Department sued Mississippi for not following this mandate and still relying on institutional care to treat people. There is related lawsuit against the State about this and yet another lawsuit about the State’s refusal to make public reports that describe how to create and fund the services we need. These lawsuits reflect Mississippi’s continued struggles with civil rights and transparency. They also cost tens of thousands of tax dollars each month.
Does community-based care burden families? Well-planned services support families and have a range of individualized options such as respite, aides to provide one-to-one support, and round-the-clock crisis intervention. Services are provided in-home or in small group settings near where families live. Acute inpatient psychiatric care is available locally when needed.
Would people lose their jobs if Mississippi moved to a community-based system? It should create new jobs for people who provide direct care and services related to it, including employees currently working in institutions. It would also likely mean better pay and greater job satisfaction as opposed to the low wages, burnout and high turnover rates we see now for institutional employees. We need state leaders who will champion this cause and the work force development that accompanies it.
- Did the recent budget cuts affect Families as Allies? Yes. The Department of Mental Health notified us verbally on April 27 that our State funding will be cut by 85% effective July 1. We are aware of no other organization that was cut by that percentage. We are baffled why any community services would be cut since the lack of those services is why Mississippi is being sued. Our goal, as always, is to make sure our mission and work continue. We are confident that our commitment to our mission and our partnerships with all of you will lead to new funding, creative ways to deliver our services, and strategic ways to align with other organizations. Donation information can be found here. Finally, if you value our work and think it should be supported, call your legislator today.
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