Mental Health Report Finds Pace of Spending Slows, With Some Progress Reversed

The report comes near the third anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released its third annual survey today on state mental health legislation, which found that the number of states to boost spending in this area has dropped each year since the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.

That tragedy, carried out by a mentally ill young man, raised awareness of the need for better funding and care for those who suffer serious illness. And in 2013, 36 states elevated spending levels, followed by increases in 29 states in 2014. But just 23 increased spending in 2015, and 14 states and the District of Columbia cut them.

“The good news is that efforts to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness have continued in 2015,” said NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti. “Some states have enacted specific reforms that can serve as models for others. And Congress has slowly begun to move forward now with mental health reform legislation.”

However, Congress has taken its time getting to mental health care, and states like Ohio and Iowa have seen back-tracking of progress from prior years, the group found. For example, Iowa overhauled its mental health services in 2014 but has spent much of the past year mired in a debate over transitioning its entire Medicaid program to managed care.

What troubles NAMI most is that changes in mental health funding are always framed in the context of tragedy and violence, yet most people living with mental illness are not violent.

The stories of mental illness, Giliberti said, include those who end up on the streets, in jail, or in emergency rooms for lack of care. “They include young people whose symptoms aren’t recognized early enough to avoid the worst outcomes. They include deaths by suicide,” she said.

Among the findings in the NAMI report:

  • Eleven states have increased funding for mental health each year since Newtown: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington.
  • Three states have cut funding for mental health each year since Newtown: Alaska, North Carolina, and Wyoming.
  • NAMI’s 5 top legislative priorities in the states are: Arizona’s housing bill, Minnesota’s first-episode psychosis program, Utah’s criminal justice in mental health bill, Virginia’s inpatient bed bill, and Washington State’s telehealth bill.