I never thought I would be so passionate about mental illness. But here I am, dedicating my extra time
each week to learning, advocating and educating. This week I attended a discussion hosted by NAMI
Austin chapter. NAMI is a national organization that focuses on advocating and educating on mental
illness. NAMI is a great resource. The organization provides educational courses such as Families to
Families and Great Minds Think Alike as well as sponsors several committees that help to advocate for
the mentally ill in the community.
Monday evening’s discussion was one of those opportunities to advocate. NAMI invited two legislatorsto visit with a group of community members and discuss the upcoming 2011 session. There were a lot more community members in attendance than I suspected might be in attendance. (Which
is obviously a great thing – “hey! You’re concerned about mental health issues too? Let’s talk…”)
I’d like to share a few of the things I learned with you all and then tell you how you may be able to help. As we enter into the next session, the state of Texas is facing a 15 billion dollar budget deficit. Surely this comes as no surprise to any of you as our nation is currently in a recession. What might surprise you is that with the next budget cut, mental health services will see its own budget cut of almost 140 million dollars. That’s right folks – if you thought there were limited resources already, be prepared. You might ask yourself, why mental health services? As cuts are made to preventative programs and funding for state hospitals sick patients are turned out to the streets. Left untreated, these individuals are often arrested and put into jails on misdemeanors – the term for this is deinstitutionalization. Once deinstitutionalized who pays for these individuals to sit in jail untreated? Tax payers. Those super expensive property taxes you’re paying each month? Welp, they’re paying for my brother to sit in jail and get even.more.sick. You don’t like that? Me either. To boot, in the next budget cut there will be a defunding of any kind of specialized program in jails and prisons. (This includes those that support
mental health initiatives.)
As we all know that funding preventative programs is much less expensive than continuing to fund a
cyclical process of individuals being turned out to the streets, arrested, jailed, turned out the streets,
arrested, jailed, sent to the hospital, etc. If it is much less expensive, why are we continuing to decrease
preventative program budgets? Well, it’s really easy to let the taxpayers take care of it, isn’t it? That
and it’s very complicated to give legislators cold hard data that shows the money that is being saved. So what do we do to help?
Contact local organizations or Mental Health America and get their help to put together some cold hard facts and numbers. Legislators need facts and numbers to fuel decisions.
Start conversations. No one knows that there is serious concern for this population of individuals unless people start having candid conversations about the issues.
Donate. If you don’t have time, then spare a few dollars. Donating to organizations like NAMI and
Mental Health America give them the opportunity to spend that money and the time you don’t have to
gather research and put together those cold hard facts and data.
Write legislators. Each morning legislators have a team of people that review letters and clippings from
individuals just like you and I. Individuals that are very interested and very concerned. They can’t help if they do not know there is a problem.
Thanks for reading. Look for more postings soon. In the meantime, feel free to contact myself or Anna
for more information or maybe even support.