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National organizations to address budget cuts at Washington symposium

October 14, 2011
by News release
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Washington, D.C. — A group of prominent mental health advocacy organizations will host a joint symposium titled "Mental Health Hope: Lost People, Lost Dollars, Lost Hope" to raise awareness about the imminent threat and impact of state and federal government budget cuts to mental health services.

The symposium will take place on Nov. 16, 2011, at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C. Tipper Gore, actress Glenn Close, and her sister Jessie Close will address the symposium, and award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts will serve as the moderator.

With the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (also known as the "super committee") poised to make their recommendations in late November, the symposium partner organizations are pressing political leaders to consider the economic costs of cutting support for mental health services, which is financed through a variety of federal and state programs, grants and private insurance and payments.

The symposium is sponsored by leading advocacy organizations in the mental health field, which include: the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; American Psychiatric Association; National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

"We've convened this group to inform decision makers on Capitol Hill about the consequences of slashing mental health funding," said Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, one of the groups leading the symposium. "Cutting budgets for mental health simply results in higher costs to other sectors of society."

In the last two years, states have cut a total of $1.8 billion from their budgets for services for children and adults living with mental illness, according to a recent National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) report, "State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis." The result has been increased responsibility for emergency rooms, community hospitals, police departments, correctional facilities, schools and homeless shelters, the report explained.

While the mental health community has made strides in recent decades in terms of research, stigma reduction, and parity, leaders in the field worry that the successes they have achieved will diminish if their budgets are further limited.

"The work we have done to increase access and quality of care for those in need will be severely threatened without the resources to keep the programs going," said Mark Covall, President and CEO of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems. "We're already struggling to deal with increased demand due to the down economy. If we see any further cutbacks, the result will be incredibly costly for the wider community."

Leaders of the symposium hope that federal and state legislators will recognize the value provided by the mental health community and support their work in upcoming budget debates.

"Too often, policymakers only see the immediate savings of cutting budgets to mental health services," said John M. Oldham, M.D., President of the American Psychiatric Association. "We want to emphasize that these programs are already providing significant savings within the health care system and in other sectors of society, by increasing employment and workplace productivity, and by decreasing homelessness, substance use, and overcrowding in emergency rooms."

In addition to the keynote speakers, symposium attendees will hear from two panels of experts who will provide their perspectives on how budget cutbacks could hurt access to mental healthcare, the justice system, the economy and the military.